Can India make it out of Group A at the AFC Asian Cup 2019?
Written by: Uttiyo Sarkar
With India's group for the Asian Cup being revealed, Khel Now takes a look at what can be expected from the Blue Tigers in January.
India's fate in the AFC Asian Cup 2019 was revealed when the Blue Tigers were put in Group A alongside hosts UAE, Bahrain, and Thailand. While only the UAE are above India in the current FIFA rankings, it is going to be a very tough battle nonetheless for Stephen Constantine's men. The hosts might have received an automatic qualification, but both Thailand and Bahrain had impressive qualifying campaigns.
Thailand didn't even have to compete in Round 3 of qualification because of their dominant outing in FIFA World Cup qualification stage as they finished top of Group F, ahead of the likes of Iraq and Vietnam. They scored 14 goals in six games and did not lose a single match in qualification, proving how they are going to be a daunting task for the Tigers.
Bahrain, on the other hand, had a disappointing outing in Round 2 like India in World Cup Qualifying. They finished 5th in Group H, which forced them to have to play in Round 3 later on. But they were the stand-out in the group in that round, finishing top of a group containing the likes of Turkmenistan and Chinese Taipei.
India are surely the dark-horse in Group A because of the level of opposition in their way, but there is a lot of hope going forward due to some of the teams in the group being quite unpredictable as well. So let's have a detailed look at our opponents for the AFC Asian Cup 2019.
United Arab Emirates (UAE)
The United Arab Emirates became the host nation to the 2019 Asian Cup a few years ago when they won a bidding war for it. This also meant that they wouldn't have to play the qualification stages, but instead participated in some other tournaments in order to keep their momentum going. The UAE have been in patchy form recently but defeated heavyweights Iran in the Gulf Cup earlier this year. However, they have yet to win a match since and their poor recent form has seen them drop to the 81st ranking, which is just above India.
The UAE finished third in the 2015 Asian Cup and had a really impressive outing, defeating the likes of Japan and Iraq along the way. They are known to be very strong defensively and a difficult side to break down. They are a side who love to sit back and hit others on the counter, where they score thanks to their prolific strikers in Ahmed Khalil and Ali Mabkhout who have scored 49 amd 42 goals respectively for their country.
UAE's Omar is deemed as the best player on the continent
Unfortunately, India don't have the best history against them on the pitch. The UAE have defeated India eight times of the 12 they've met so far, with the Blue Tigers only winning two. The two sides last met in the FIFA World Cup Qualifying in 2011, when the UAE won the two-legged tie 5-3 on aggregate. In fact, India last defeated them in 2001, during a FIFA World Cup Qualifying match where a Jules Alberto winner gave them a historic win on the day.
Thailand have been a developing footballing nation over the past few years and had a surprisingly impressive outing in World Cup Qualification where they only faltered in the third round. They are known to be quite dangerous in attack and have the knack of playing some free-flowing football. But, the most impressive thing about them is how well they play as a team, with no individual getting more prominence than anyone else.
This is set to be Thailand first appearance in the AFC Cup in over a decade, as they last appeared in the 2007 edition when they finished third in a difficult group containing Iraq and Australia. Their development over this decade has been something deeply resembling that of India, which is why the match-up is going to be especially intriguing. Thailand loves to play on the attack and some very positive football thanks to the mentality of Serbian Coach Milovan Rajevac.
The War Elephants have an extremely strong attacking core of midfielder Datsakorn Thonglao and striker Teerasil Dangda, who have formed a deadly partnership over the years. Thonglao is known for his creativity and dangerous set-piece ability, while Dangda is Thailand's third highest goalscorer of all-time having scored 42 goals in 91 appearances.
India don't enjoy the best record against Thailand either having lost 11 of the 21 games played between the sides so far. The Tigers last met Thailand in 2010, losing a friendly 2-1 and haven't won against the War Elephants in the last seven occasions. But, Thailand have had somewhat of a dip in form recently and if India can play well on the counter-attack and soak up the pressure, they can record a famous win.
Like India, Thai football fans are ecstatic with their draw in Group A
Bahrain might have had a disappointing outing in the World Cup Qualifiers, but they showed much promise in the third round of Asian Cup qualification. They conceded only three goals in six matches, scoring 15 and losing only a single match.
But Bahrain have that the unpredictability which can absolutely rattle India, as they will look to go past the group stages of the Asian Cup for the first time in 14 years. They have an evenly balanced side, with some of the newcomers to the team being highly impressive during the qualifying rounds.
They were absolutely ruthless in attack in some of the matches, scoring many goals and humiliating their opponents. In fact, the only loss in the qualifying group stage was against Chinese Taipei when they let their guard down and allowed them to seal a famous comeback victory.
Bahrain have brought up some players with real potential over the past few years, with their strike force of Mahdi Abduljabbar, Abdulla Yusuf Helal and Sami Al-Husaini developing great chemistry recently. They also have a good blend of experience on their side and have great synchronization with each other on the pitch due to players in different positions playing together at club-level as well.
Bahrain 5-2 India AFC Asian Cup 2011 highlights
It's going to be a difficult task for India to topple this dangerous Bahrain side and history isn't on the Tigers side either, having lost four of the five games against them over the years. In this tournament, the countries last met in the 2011 edition when the West Asians helped themselves to a comfortable 5-2 win. But, that hiding aside, on current form, India's best chance of a win in this group comes against this opposition.
If India can somehow manage to qualify for the knockout rounds of the tournament, it will be an amazing achievement given how difficult the opposition is in the group is. The Tigers will have an opportunity to face the runners-up of Group C, which contains South Korea, China PR, Kyrgyzstan, and the Philippines, in the round of 16.
But if by any chance India can cause a string of upsets and actually finish as group toppers, then they will face the team with the most points/goal difference among Group C/D/E.
It's quite understandable that most of the Blue Tigers' fans will go into the Asian Cup with little expectations from the side because of the group India are placed in. But, a spark of inspiration can do all the good for Sunil Chhetri & Co, who will undoubtedly play their hearts out and try and make their nation proud.
Published: Sat May 05, 2018 05:45 PM IST