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India players optimistic of AFC Challenge Cup 2014 success

To play the Asian Cup 2015 in Australia, India have to do it the hard way as they have to first negotiate the 2014 AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers in March 2013 and then try and win the main tournament in 2014.

This was confirmed after Asian Football Confederation (AFC) announced on Wednesday that Maldives will be the hosts of the 2014 AFC Challenge Cup, with India failing in their bid to host the competition.

The All India Football Federation (AIFF) were hopeful of hosting the tournament like they did in 2008, which India won to qualify for the 2011 Asian Cup. But they now have to go past the qualifiers, the draw for which is likely to be held in the first week of December.

After a poor show in the 2012 AFC Challenge Cup in Nepal, the 2014 edition is India’s last chance to book a place in Australia 2015.

Young midfielder Lenny Rodrigues, who was one of the finds of the 2012 Nehru Cup, believes that India now has a great chance to show that they can be successful on foreign soil as well.

“We were not good enough in Nepal so this is a chance to bounce back and show that we can perform outside India also,” Rodrigues told Sportskeeda.

Experienced defender Gouramangi Singh doesn’t want to look too ahead and wants to focus on qualifying for the 2014 Challenge Cup first.

“We can’t talk about 2014 now because first we have to play the qualifiers and that isn’t going to be easy. I think it’s good that we are going to play in the qualifiers because that means more international games,” Gouramangi told Sportskeeda.

The 2010 AIFF Player of the Year believes that the fans have every right to be disappointed when the team isn’t performing and remains optimistic of qualifying for the 2015 Asian Cup.

“When the results are not coming, we players have to accept criticism whether it’s coming from the fans or media. It’s completely natural. It’s down to us to pick ourselves and improve in future. Not many gave us a chance against Cameroon in the Nehru Cup but we showed great character to win the final.

“The Challenge Cup is a very important competition for us because it’s the route to the biggest competition in Asia. We still don’t know where the qualifiers will take place but wherever we play we have to perform and then hopefully we can go there in Maldives in 2014 and win the tournament,” he said.

India successfully made through the qualifiers of the 2012 edition by topping their group in 2011 and goalkeeper Karanjit Singh is hoping to repeat that feat. The Salgaocar custodian opined that although home advantage could have helped, India cannot give any excuses.

“The qualifiers will also be a tough test because all teams are improving but we have it in us to do well and qualify. Home advantage always gives you an edge so it would have been better if we could have hosted. But we can’t talk about that anymore and have to focus on our performance. We have had a good start under the new coach (Wim Koevermans) so hopefully we can continue that next year also,” Karanjit told Sportskeeda.

India, who are next expected to play a home internationally friendly on February 6 in Guwahati, will be boosted by the fact that 2012 champions North Korea won’t be featuring in the 2014 Challenge Cup.

In fact, the AFC has decided to exclude North Korea from future Challenge Cups, possibly because of the gulf in class between the two-time World Cuppers and other emerging nations of Asia.

The AFC also announced that the winners of the 2016 and 2018 Challenge Cups will have to beat the two best remaining teams from Asian Cup qualifiers in a playoff to qualify for the 2019 Asian Cup. So the 2014 AFC Challenge Cup will be the last edition that gives the winners an automatic slot in the Asian Cup.

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