The Blue Tigers were knocked out in the second round at the previous edition of the qualifiers.
The 2022 FIFA World Cup Asia Qualifiers are just around the corner and Igor Stimac and his Blue Tigers are getting ready for the big event in September. However, before the start of the second round of the qualifiers, the draws will take place on 17th July at the AFC House in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and will be live on DSport from 2:30 PM IST.
The Indian national team who are currently competing in the Hero Intercontinental Cup against the likes of Syria, DPR Korea and Tajikistan, are placed in Pot 3 in the draw. The Blue Tigers will look to improve on their dismal performance last time in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers, where they finished last in their group with only one win. Their group had teams like Guam, Turkmenistan, Oman and Iran.
Watch: Adil Khan feels the Hero Intercontinental Cup is a perfect tournament to prepare ahead of the FIFA World Cup qualifiers
However this time with a spirited performance in the AFC Asian Cup where the Blue Tigers started strongly with a 4-1 win over Thailand and went down fighting against hosts, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. Back to back loses saw the Indian team bow out of the continental tournament after being in qualification contention for most of the time.
A lot has changed since then and new head coach Igor Stimac has come in and guided the side to a third-place finish at the King’s Cup in Thailand. The Blue Tigers suffered a defeat against Curacao which was followed by a win over hosts Thailand.
Sri Lanka or Bangladesh
Pot 5 includes teams that have fought it out in the playoffs and achieved their spot in the second round of qualifiers. Hence they will be motivated and teams can only take them lightly at their own peril.
Considering the condition of the Indian national team, they should look to win both the games against a team from Pot 5. However there will be fixture congestion and travelling to countries like Mongolia and Cambodia have their own challenges. On the other hand, Guam are known for their giant-killing abilities and they got the better of the Blue Tigers in the past so it will be good for the team to avoid them.
Both Bangladesh and Sri Lanka will be comparatively easier opposition considering their past record against India and also it will be a short trip for the boys allowing them more recovery time for the tougher matches.
Bangladesh somehow sneaked their way past Laos by a 1-0 win over two legs and Sri Lanka were beaten in the first leg by Macau but the Greens failed to reach Sri Lanka citing security reason and the match was forfeited handing the island nation with a 3-0 win resulting in their qualification.
India would love to face a team from SAFF in their group from POT 4 which is very tricky and has teams like Kuwait and Turkmenistan who are capable of upsetting some of the Asian heavyweights on their day. Hence the Blue Tigers would want to face Hong Kong or Maldives as both these teams are comparatively easier and Stimac’s men will again look to win both their games against their opponents from POT 4 if they want to have any chance of qualifying for the next round of the qualifiers.
The Blue Tigers have had fair share of wins against Maldives in the past and despite fielding an inexperienced U-23 side, the Blue Tigers narrowly lost to Maldives in the SAFF Championships final. So considering all odds Maldives can be India’s best bet from POT 4.
India’s fate may get decided on the opposition they get from this POT. Teams like Jordan, Iraq, Syria, Uzbekistan, Vietnam etc will be a daunting task for the Blue Tigers. If Igor Stimac’s men want to gain some points from these fixtures then they may fancy a known opposition. The Blue Tigers have defeated the Kyrgyz Republic at home in their AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers and also gave them a tough fight in Bishkek eventually losing out by 1-2.
Hence the opposition from this POT will be very tricky and if Stimac’s men manage to get results in their favour then things may get smoother in their path to progress to the next round of qualifiers. However, playing away from home against the Kyrgyz Republic will have challenges of their own but considering the other oppositions, India may fancy their chances against the White Falcons despite their great outing at the AFC Asian Cup earlier in 2019.
UAE or China
The most difficult POT in the entire draw and facing any team from this POT will be a challenge for the Blue Tigers. However, considering the qualification chances. Igor Stimac’s men would fancy playing against China or UAE rather playing heavyweights like Australia, Japan or the Korea Republic.
If the Indian national team can sneak out some points against their opponents from POT 1 then their chances of going through to the next round will dramatically increase. India have played out a gritty 0-0 draw against China away from home in an international friendly ahead of the AFC Asian Cup. Whereas they also played with a lot of heart against UAE in the AFC Asian Cup and on any other day they might have won that game, considering the chances they created in the first half. But they eventually lost 2-0 to the hosts by the virtue of two second-half goals.
All in all, it will be an uphill task for the Blue Tigers, as facing any of the teams from this POT will be a huge challenge and they would have to play out of their skins to churn out results.