The All India Football Federation is aiming for its team to earn a berth at the 2026 FIFA World Cup. The only problem is that India just doesn’t know how to make its big dreams a reality.
India is due to participate in the 2019 AFC Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates from January 5 to February 1. This is only the fourth time India have managed to qualify in 17 editions for the quadrennial event and the first since 2011.
While other continental powers like Iran and China are preparing in Qatar, India will leave on Thursday and will barely have two weeks before the 24-team tournament kicks-off.
India will play only one friendly against Oman on December 27 while teams like Qatar, Jordan and even Palestine will play multiple friendlies to ready themselves for the continental championship.
India’s head coach Stephen Constantine, who has always wanted longer preparation time for tournaments like Asian Cup, now feels two weeks are enough to acclimatise.
“We have two weeks there in Abu Dhabi to get acclimatised. Our first two games are also in Abu Dhabi. Our preparation is okay. We could’ve had a few more games but that was not for lack of time. We sent letters to over 25 footballing nations and wanted to play teams that are playing the Asian Cup,” said Constantine at the jersey launch of the team.
“I also received a call from (Iran coach) Carlos Queiroz to play a friendly but that clashed with the Oman friendly so we had to refuse. We wanted to play big, strong teams like China and Jordan because they are strong competition.” It is not sure if teams like China or Korea want to play India.
India have been draw in Group A along with hosts UAE, Thailand and Bahrain. India kickoff against Thailand on January 6, followed by UAE (January 10) and Bahrain (January 14).
India will also be without the services of Nishu Kumar and Jerry Lalrinzuala, both unfit.
“We are ready to face anyone. We respect all three teams. They are difficult. But we are well prepared. We have two weeks to prepare and go out there to give our best. All we are thinking right now is to get maximum points from the first game. India will be looking to get no less than three points against Thailand,” said India captain Sunil Chhetri.
India previously participated in the Asian Cup in 1964, 1984 and 2011. Chhetri, 34, is the only survivor of the 2011 squad.
Comparing India’s current preparation to the one in 2011, Chhetri said: “In 2011, we were together for six months. But this time, all the boys selected are playing constantly in the Indian Super League and I-League. Now we just have to come together as a single unit and give it our best shot.” Clearly, India’s players have more time playing for their club teams in the Indian Super League.
India’s 28-member squad leaves for Abu Dhabi on Thursday with the 23-member list slated to be announced on December 26.