India qualified for the AFC Asian Cup held in the United Arab Emirates in Jan-Feb 2019 after eight long years. Although it went out in the first round, the team won many hearts with a stirring display. The AFC Asian Cup campaign is part of Indian football’s resurgent phase. This is definitely one of the finest periods in its otherwise dismal history.
After more than five decades, we now have hopes of qualifying for the FIFA World Cup. 2019 promises to be an exciting year for Indian football’s growing legion of fans. Here’s what lies in store.
2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers
There are 47 member nations in the AFC (Asian Football Confederation). Qatar has automatically qualified since it is hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup. The remaining nations will field their teams in the qualifiers for four and a half slots. Four teams will get direct entry, and a fifth team will do so on winning an inter-confederation playoff. The first round of AFC qualifiers gets underway in June 2019.
India’s progressive FIFA ranking has earned it a direct entry into the second round which begins in September. Last time, India exited the qualifiers at this stage after they finished last in their group. However, their improved showing in the last couple of years has raised hopes of a better performance this time around. Will we see a sea of blue in Qatar in 2022? Fingers crossed, we will!
Appointment of new coach
Head coach Stephen Constantine stepped down after India’s first-round exit. Constantine did a commendable job since his selection in 2015. During his stint, India breached the top 100-barrier in FIFA rankings in 2017 after two decades. It also qualified for the AFC Asian Cup 2019. Who will succeed Constantine?
Till now, the AIFF (All India Football Federation) has been tight-lipped on Constantine’s successor. Big names are doing the rounds and Zico is one of them. The Brazilian has coached FC Goa in the ISL and is aware of Indian conditions. Ashley Westwood is another candidate who has worked with Indian clubs. But the biggest name is that of Sven-Göran Eriksson. The Swede has earlier managed premier clubs including Manchester City and Leicester City. The former England manager and current consultant for the Philippines national team is reportedly up for hire. Will he be the new manager? We wait for answers; with bated breath!
2020 AFC U-23 Championship qualifiers
The fourth edition of the AFC U-23 Championship will be held in Thailand next year. Sixteen teams, including the host, will participate in this edition. The qualifiers will be held in various countries in March this year. India is placed in Group F along with Tajikistan, Pakistan and hosts Uzbekistan. The group toppers and four best second-placed teams will make it to Thailand in 2020. India has never qualified for the tournament since its inception in 2013.
Constantine was also in charge of the U-23 team. However, his resignation has left the team without a coach. It’s not an ideal situation for the Indians.
Nevertheless, if India makes it to the finals, it will be an excellent boost for Indian football. Many eligible players including Anirudh Thapa and Udanta Singh played for the senior team during the AFC Asian Cup campaign. Can the Blue Tiger cubs pull off a coup? Only time will tell…
ISL and I-league merger
India’s domestic football structure has two co-existing leagues: the ISL (Indian Super League) and the I-league. Their formats are different, but the objective remains the same. Both want to take Indian football from the dumps towards global recognition. Then why don’t we have one league? It’s a question that observers, experts and even the average football fan is asking. Speculation is rife that it will happen sooner rather than later. This is especially after AFC’s rumoured report to AIFF suggesting an immediate shift to a unified domestic league. Will the merger happen this year? Will 2019 see a much-needed revamp of Indian domestic football? Let’s hope for the best.