It all comes down to that one match on Tuesday, between India and Hong Kong, to decide who will win Group D of the AFC Asian Cup qualifiers and confirm their spot at the continental tournament next year.
As it stands, both teams are level on six points after beating Cambodia and Afghanistan, but Hong Kong lead the group by having scored one more goal than the hosts.
A draw, however, will be enough to see India through to the quadrennial event for the second consecutive time. Hong Kong will also progress with a point and top spot assured in group. India will progress as one of the five best second-placed teams if they too reach seven points. India could also potentially be assured of their place in the tournament before their match starts based on some of the earlier results in the day.
Update: India are guaranteed to qualify for 2023 Asian Cup as at least one of the best five second-placed teams in the final group. For the first time in history, Indian men are set to feature in consecutive Asian Cup tournament finals.
“There is a big prize at the end which is qualification to the Asian Cup. Even though we have done good in the last two games, we have not achieved anything yet. What we have learnt is to keep everything aside. We just have to focus on the next game, and end the tournament on a positive note,” India captain Sunil Chhetri had said at the pre-match press conference.
India started their campaign with a 2-0 win over Cambodia before the late heroics of Sahal Abdul Samal rescued three points against Afghanistan in another 2-1 win.
Hong Kong meanwhile started their campaign with a 2-1 win over the Afghans, and later beat Cambodia 3-0.
“As you can see they are a well-organised side, a disciplined side with enough quality to defend and attack but we studied them, all their main strengths and weaknesses and we know what we need to do to win this game,” said India’s coach Igor Stimac.
“Of course this game is of the same importance as the previous two. There is less pressure but not less hunger or motivation for us to go out to start from the very first minute as we started against Afghanistan and do what we can to win this game.”
A win on Tuesday will help India qualify for the Asian Cup for the second consecutive time, for the first time. Hong Kong though are looking to book their spot at the event for the first time since 1968.
“For us the situation is really positive,” said Hong Kong’s coach Jorn Andersen.
“We didn’t expect it when we were coming here, but we have already made two good games and taken six points.
“Of course it’s a big advantage for India to play at home, in front of maybe 40 or 50,000 spectators and that’s something we have to solve. But we have experienced players, we have a good collective team and I think we can solve this problem.”
Details about the qualifiers:
There are 24 teams competing across six groups in six centralised venues – Kuwait (Group A), Mongolia (Group B), Uzbekistan (Group C), India (Group D), Malaysia (Group E) and Kyrgyz Republic (Group F). The 24 teams will compete over three Matchdays on June 8, 11 and 14 for the 11 remaining spots in the 2023 AFC Asian Cup tournament proper.
The six group winners and five best second-placed teams will join 2015 winners Australia, defending champions Qatar, China, Iran, Iraq, Japan, Korea Republic, Lebanon, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Syria, UAE and Vietnam in the Finals.— — Information via AFC
Goalkeepers: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Laxmikanth Kattimani, Amrinder Singh
Defenders: Rahul Bheke, Akash Mishra, Harmanjot Singh Khabra, Roshan Singh, Anwar Ali, Sandesh Jhingan, Subhashish Bose, Pritam Kotal
Midfielders: Jeakson Singh, Anirudh Thapa, Glan Martins, Brandon Fernandes, Deepak Tangri, Udanta Singh, Yasir Mohammad, Sahal Abdul Samad, Suresh Wangjam, Ashique Kuruniyan, Liston Colaco
Forwards: Ishan Pandita, Sunil Chhetri, Manvir Singh
The match starts at 20:30 hrs IST and will be telecast live on the Star Sports Network and Disney+Hotstar