Ahmedabad is also in the fray after the successful hosting of the ongoing Hero Intercontinental Cup.
With Round 2 of the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers being shaped up after the draw was made on Wednesday, India are ready to seal their fate in the competition. The Blue Tigers have been placed in a relatively tricky group, alongside AFC Asian Cup champions Qatar, Oman, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.
The catch in this group is that Qatar, as hosts, get automatic qualification for the World Cup and are only in the running for automatic AFC Asian Cup qualification. As a result, the runners-up of the group can automatically progress, as group winners and take a big step closer to the World Cup.
The games are to begin in September and the Blue Tigers are set to host Oman in their first Qualifier on the 5th of September. With the Intercontinental Cup drawing to a conclusion, the EKA Arena is set to take a rest for a bit of time. However, report say Mumbai and Kolkata are in the shortlist to host the inaugural game.
The last time Kolkata hosted a national team game was way back in 2011, when the Blue Tigers defeated Malaysia 3-2 in a friendly. Sunil Chhetri and Jeje Lalpekhlua scored in that eventful match. But, the low turnout during a stagnant phase in Indian football worried the officials to the extent that a game hasn’t taken place since.
However, after watching the impressive turnout in the I-League last season and a decent audience for ATK as well at the Salt Lake Stadium, the national team might be ready to grace the City of Joy once again. Mumbai has almost become the second home for the team, with many games taking place in the city in recent years.
The Mumbai Football Arena hosted the inaugural Intercontinental Cup last year, which saw a pretty good turnout, after captain Chhetri took to social media to get his message across to inspire the faithful. Reportedly, Ahmedabad is also in the running, but it’s unlikely that the national team will return to the EKA Arena, as the AIFF deem hosting a game in the city as “too expensive.”
The Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru has also hosted games in the past, but it’s already been ruled out due to a court case surrounding the arena. For those unaware, due to a dispute between the Karnataka Athletic Association (KAA) and reigning Indian Super League (ISL) champions Bengaluru FC, the Bengaluru side might lose the right to play their home games at the stadium from next season.
At this moment, Mumbai and Kolkata are being seen as the two favourites to host Oman in the inaugural game, as the AIFF will make sure it takes place at the best possible venue, where the fans can act as the 12th man to spur on the national team.