AFC Asian Cup 2019: An analysis on what India needs to do for Asian Cup qualification
The Indian team recently grabbed the limelight as they defeated Laos to register their first away win since 2001 in a two-legged qualifying match. The Blue brigade are presently in the first qualifying rounds of the AFC Asian Cup 2019 competition. India will now host Laos in a reverse fixture at home on Tuesday, 7th June 2016.
The format of qualification
Firstly, let us explain the format of the qualification to AFC Asian Cup 2019. In the first round, a total of 12 teams, ranked 35 to 46 in Asia, will play home-and-away over two legs. The six winners will advance to the second round.
In the second round, a total of 40 teams, ranked 1–34 and the six first round winners will be divided into eight groups of five teams to play home-and-away matches. From thereon, the eight group winners and the four best group runners-up will qualify for the AFC Asian Cup finals as well as to the third round of FIFA World Cup qualifiers.
The next 16 teams which include the remaining four group runners-up, the eight third-placed teams, and the four best group fourth-placed teams, will advance directly to the third round of Asian Cup qualification.
The last 12 teams will enter the play-off round to contest the remaining eight spots in the third round of Asian Cup qualification.
Analysing India’s chances in the qualifying rounds
India are currently playing their play-off round home and away fixtures against Laos. They had managed to beat Laos in the away fixture courtesy a Jeje Lalpekhlua strike and now it is time for us to host them. A draw or a win in the home fixture would guarantee a place in India in the third round of the qualification stage.
Realistically we have every chance of making it to the next round considering we have an away win under our belt. Even though there is another scope for India to make it to the third by winning in the round 2 of the playoffs, India most likely will not be in such a situation as quality wise we are ahead of Laos.
Not let us check the teams who are already there in the third round of qualification. The teams are Afghanistan, Bahrain, Guam, Hong Kong, Jordan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Myanmar, North Korea, Oman, Palestine, Philippines, Turkmenistan, Vietnam, and Singapore.
Looking at the teams who are there in the third, we can very well come to a conclusion that it will be an uphill task for India to be among the top 12 teams from the 24 and qualify for the main tournament. Teams like, Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait (future of Kuwait is still uncertain as FIFA is yet to revoke the ban), Lebanon, North Korea are way ahead of India. India’s performance in the last 4-5 years is terrible, to say the least and it certainly does not give us any positive hope.
Prediction and realistic finish for India
I seriously do not think India will make to the final tournament in 2019 as it is tough to compete against the already qualified teams in the third round. Our away performances have been terrible, which is clearly visible from the fact that we managed to get an away win after 15 years in a competitive qualifying match.
During the World Cup qualification, India lost all four away matches including Guam who were below India at that point of time. Even in the play-off round of World Cup qualifiers, where India took on Nepal, they failed to beat the Nepalese side in the away fixture. If Stephen Constantine’s men cannot perform properly in the away fixtures, it will be impossible for them to finish among the top two sides in the group stages.
I predict a group stage exit for India but sincerely hope, India can pull off some stellar performances in the group stages and make a mark.