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  • FEATURE : AFC Asia Cup Qualifiers - Is India’s ‘Easier’ Draw A Boon or A Curse?

FEATURE : AFC Asia Cup Qualifiers - Is India’s ‘Easier’ Draw A Boon or A Curse?

Thursday, 26 January 2017|The RW

The draws have been made, and the stage has been set for India to take its baby steps and progress in the world of football. Both the AFC and FIFA have increased the number of teams that will take part in their respective marquee tournaments.

While the AFC has increased the number of teams in the Asian Cup from 16 to 24, the FIFA has increased the number of teams in the World Cup from 32 to a whopping 48.

This instantly increases the probability of lower ranked sides like India to make it to the bigger stages of World football.

India followed a rather strange path into the third round qualifiers for Asia Cup. The Blue Tigers found themselves at the top of Pot 2 in the third round qualification draws despite ending as the bottom-placed group in Group D of the second round qualifiers.

The standing on the table ended up being inconsequential, however, as despite finishing rock bottom of their group, India still had the chance of progressing to the third round, if they won their two-legged playoff match, which they aced 7-1 against Laos, on aggregate.

However, questions still arise as to how a side, which has not won an international match outside South Asia for more than a decade, gets placed in Pot 2 of the draws, which eventually resulted in India getting a relatively easier group.

Head coach Stephen Constantine has always maintained – even during his first stint with the national side – that India need to, somehow creep its way up the FIFA rankings, in order to get easier groups in the World Cup and Asia Cup qualifiers.

While the strategy of playing lower ranked teams in the hope India will beat them and keep accruing points did not quite work out in the past, the All India Football Federation’s (AIFF) shrewd policy in 2016 paved the way for this momentous chance for India to make it to the Asian Cup once again.

The 7-1 aggregate win against Laos certainly helped India’s cause, but what really propelled India into Pot 2 was their 4-1 win over higher ranked Puerto Rico in an International Friendly at the Andheri Stadium in Mumbai, last year.

Also, the AIFF’s decision not to play any other international games after the Puerto Rico also helped India’s index in the FIFA rankings, with regards to the number of points earned per game played in the calendar year.

While India’s 4-1 thrashing of Puerto Rico will be much talked about among the Blue Tigers’ die-hard fans, we must remember that the CONCAF side were missing four key players in the match, and were playing in a completely jet-lagged state, after a hasty rescheduling of their flight, just a couple of days before the match.

The match itself served its purpose for India, who now stand at 129 in the FIFA rankings.

India, who have been placed in Group A in the AFC rankings, need to face just one side who are ranked higher than them – Kyrgyzstan (124). The other two sides in the group – Myanmar (159) and Macau (184) are placed well below Constantine’s men in the rankings.

On paper, this may seem like a favourable draw for the Indians. However, the rankings could turn out to be quite a deceptive affair. India, who were ranked 163 only last year, find themselves a long way above the likes of Myanmar and Macau, on the back of their performances in just three matches.

While finishing second in Group A will ensure qualification, it remains to be seen whether Constantine’s men are up ready to validate their sudden jump in the ranking with solid performances. 

Whatever be the case, the Blue Tigers simply must find a way to play better in their away matches, and break the jinx that has prevented them from winning outside the subcontinent since 2004.