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2014 AFC Challenge Cup qualification scenario: What are India’s chances now?

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The 1-0 defeat to hosts Myanmar on Wednesday denied India automatic qualification for the 2014 AFC Challenge Cup in Maldives and their fate is no longer in their hands now.

20 nations were divided into five groups of four in the qualifiers with five group winners automatically joining hosts Maldives. The remaining two slots in the eight-team tournament, the winner of which qualifies for the 2015 Asian Cup in Australia, would go to the two best second-placed teams.

India finished second in Group A with six points and a goal difference of +4 but Group D runners-up Bangladesh have already bettered their record as they finished with the same number of points but have a goal difference of +5.

Group C runners-up Laos are already out of contention as they ended their campaign with just five points.

The qualifiers of groups B and E are yet to take place and India would be hoping that the runners-up in those groups finish with an inferior record.

Group B will take place between March 17 and 21 and 2006 champions Tajikistan, who are placed 132nd in the FIFA Rankings, will be favourites to qualify automatically from there. Hosts Kyrgyzstan (200), Pakistan (170) and Macau (197) are likely to fight for second place and judging by the those nations on paper, none of them look likely to match India’s tally of six points and +4 GD.

The worry for India will be Group E, the matches of which take place between March 22 and 26, as it comprises 2010 and 2012 Challenge Cup runners-up Turkmenistan (121) and hosts Philippines (147). Cambodia (183) and Brunei (185) are the other two teams but Turkmenistan and Philippines are likely to dominate the group and both have the potential to better India’s record.

So the setback of having an inferior goal difference than Bangladesh could prove to be decisive for India. Bangladesh (169) did well to beat hosts Nepal (174) 2-0 and were only narrowly beaten by Palestine (153) but the result that made the difference was the 4-0 thrashing of Northern Mariana Islands, who are yet to become a member of FIFA and conceded 19 goals in three qualifying matches.

India would have probably preferred to be in Group C in which all four nations are placed lower than India in the FIFA Rankings. Afghanistan (189) won the group ahead of hosts Laos (173), Sri Lanka (193) and Mongolia (181).

Ranking of second-placed teams

1. Bangladesh (Points: 6; Goal Difference: +5)
2. India (Points: 6; Goal Difference: +4)
3. Laos (Points: 5; Goal Difference: +2)
Groups B & E yet to be decided

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