I have finally reached Guwahati and am looking forward to seeing Team India in action against Oman tomorrow evening at the Indira Gandhi Athletics Stadium in their opening match in the joint 2022 FIFA World Cup/2023 AFC Asian Cup. The kickoff is at 7.30pm.
It brings back numerous happy memories of watching Team India play over the years, but amongst the biggest highlights will always be – April 8, 2001 at a more than sold out Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bangalore for the 2002 FIFA World Cup qualifiers, when India took on the United Arab Emirates. India then ranked 124th and the UAE a high 64th, and we witnessed a huge upset as India won the match 1-0 through a goal from Bhaichung Bhutia or Jules Alberto, still not clear who actually scored.
It started off India’s best ever FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign. But despite winning against the UAE at home and losing away, two wins over Brunei but two draw against Yemen, 1-1 at home and a 3-3 away, ended India’s chances of reaching the final of the Asian qualifiers.
Now we start against Oman and it’s a match we need to win to have a realistic chance of making it finally to the final round of Asian qualifiers, then with 2022 FIFA World Cup hosts Qatar in the group and likely to win it as well, the second placed side make it to the final round of the qualifiers. Something that India has never ever has achieved in its football history. But again, it’s only the first match with Afghanistan and Bangladesh also in the group besides Oman and Qatar.
And then I will also remember India’s 2019 AFC Asian Cup opener against Thailand on January 6, 2019 which India won 4-1 with the best second half of an Indian national team I have ever seen.
Let’s all hope and pray that Guwahati brings India luck in the campaign opener! Back the Blue!!!