Indian football team’s hopes of qualifying for the next stage of the 2022 Fifa World Cup qualifiers hang by a thread after their 1-1 draw against Afghanistan on Thursday.
India sit in the fourth spot in the five-team preliminary round group with the group winner being the only team assured a place in the next round. Along with table-toppers, four best runners-up will qualify for the final round of World Cup qualifiers.
However, with Qatar already assured of a place in the 2022 showpiece by virtue of being the hosts, their spot will go to the fifth-best runner-up in case they are one of the teams meeting the qualification criteria.
2022 Fifa World qualifiers - Group E standings
Qatar like the other teams are participating in this competition also to qualify for the 2023 AFC Asian Cup in China.
The top eight teams from each group and the four best runners-up will qualify for Asian Cup finals with the remaining runners-up entering the Asian Cup third round qualifiers.
Those four teams will be joined by all the third-placed teams and four best fourth-placed teams who will enter the Asian Cup third round qualifiers that is the final round.
The remaining four fourth-placed teams will be in the draw for the AFC Asian Cup play-off round along with the all the fifth-placed teams.
As things stand, India, who sit second from the bottom, are the fourth-best fourth-placed team and would be the last team to make it to the Asian Cup’s final qualifying round from the preliminary round.
The Blue Tigers still have four games to change their fate and with the big game against Oman coming up on Tuesday, their recovery would have to start there.
Here is what India need to do to a) Get to the next round of Fifa World Cup qualifiers and b) qualify for 2023 AFC Asian Cup.
a) To qualify for next round of Fifa World Cup qualifiers and AFC Asian Cup finals
This is almost mission impossible for India after Thursday’s draw against Afghanistan left them seven points from the automatic qualifying spot and six behind second-placed Oman.
The Blue Tigers play Oman next on Tuesday and it will be a must-win game for Igor Stimac’s men if they are to harbour any hopes of creating history and advancing from the preliminary round for the first time.
Even if India manage to beat Oman they would need to make up three points on Oman and also have a better goal difference. India would need to then also beat Qatar at home along with registering wins over Bangladesh and Afghanistan to edge either Oman or Qatar to the qualifying places.
India’s performances in the last two matches don’t inspire confidence but if their displays in the games against Oman and Qatar were anything to go by, Stimac and Co may not be done just yet.
b) To make for 2023 AFC Asian Cup third round qualifiers
As things stand, this appears to be India’s realistic target from these qualifiers. The Blue Tigers currently occupy the last spot that would take them directly into the final round fo Asian Cup qualifiers.
To stay in those spots, India would need to beat Afghanistan and Bangladesh. If Qatar and Oman win their remaining games against the bottom three sides as expected, India would finish third and earn a place in the third round of Asian Cup qualifiers with wins over Afghanistan and Bangladesh.
If India fail to finish third or among the four best fouth-placed teams, they will have to play a playoff round to enter the third round.
India finished bottom of their group last time and had to win a playoff round against Laos to enter the third round of Asian Cup qualifiers. The Blue Tigers who picked up form during the final round of qualification topped their group to advance the 2019 AFC Asian Cup finals for the first time in eight years.
In UAE, India put up an impressive show, winning their first game at the finals in 55 years but succumbed to agonising losses against UAE and Bahrain to narrowly miss out on the knockout stage.
However, performances and results will have to drastically improve for Stimac to match or better what former coach Stephen Constantine achieved.