The Indian national football team has been clubbed with hosts United Arab Emirates, Thailand and Bahrain in Group A of the AFC Asian Cup – UAE 2019, the official draw for which was held at the Armani Hotel Ballroom at the iconic Burj Khalifa in Dubai on May 4, 2018.
India open their campaign with a match against Thailand on January 6, 2019 at the Al Nahyan Stadium in Abu Dhabi; then take on hosts United Arab Emirates at the Zayed Sports City Stadium, Abu Dhabi on January 10, 2019; while the third and final group match would be against Bahrain at the Sharjah Stadium on January 14, 2019.
Looking at the draw one knows that India could have gotten much tougher opposition across all pots, so from that perspective the draw has been much kinder to India than at the AFC Asian Cup in which India had to face Australia, Bahrain and South Korea with all three teams amongst the top five in Asian football then.
Comparing the draw now in an expanded 24 team AFC Asian Cup, surely it is easier but I am surprised at reactions of saying that India has gotten a relatively easy group and that qualifying for the knockout rounds shouldn’t be a problem.
I myself thought. What???
Surely if we go by FIFA World Rankings then India is second after the United Arab Emirates (81st) as 97th ahead of Bahrain (116th) and Thailand (122nd), but that will count little going into the competition.
Surely on paper this group looks easier than others, but returning eight years after their last appearance in the AFC Asian Cup means India needs to prove it mettle and class against top continental opposition against which we rarely have played in recent years. The hosts United Arab Emirates are favourites to top the group, while Thailand have been improving over the recent years like India while Bahrain are no longer the side they were in 2011.
In an expanded format of 24 teams, the top 16 teams qualify for the pre-quarterfinals meaning that besides the top two teams from each group also the best four out of six third placed teams move into the knockout stage. That means if India can win one of its matches, it is somewhat guaranteed a spot in the pre-quarterfinals.
But to get that rare AFC Asian Cup final round win will be tough for India despite likely to have home like support from the large Indian population in the UAE and across the Middle East.
I would love to see India make it into the pre-quarterfinals (Round of 16), but it won’t be easy for Stephen Constantine and his men.