After months of uncertainty, weeks of chopping and changing squads, and a non-existent preparation window, the Indian men's national team set off on their Asian Games 2023 sojourn. They will be playing on this stage after a nine-year hiatus.
Considering the circumstances before their opening tie, Igor Stimac's men exceeded expectations with their performances in the first half of their game against China. After conceding an early goal, the Blue Tigers clawed back into the game with a stunning solo effort from Rahul KP minutes before the half-time.
However, in the second half, their fatigue and limited training became apparent, as the gaps opened up for China to pump home four goals and march to a 5-1 victory.
However, it was evident that India would improve steadily and they did soon. In the second-round group-stage match against Bangladesh, the Sunil Chhetri-led outfit, still not at their best, came away with a clinical 1-0 victory. This was thanks to an 85th-minute penalty from the talismanic forward.
This victory propelled India to the second position in Group A, as Myanmar suffered a 4-0 defeat to China. While the Red Dragons have already secured their spot in the next stage, one confirmed spot and potentially another remain open for contention in the group.
With just another round of fixtures remaining for the Group A teams, what will India need to do to qualify for the knockouts? Let's explore this in detail.
India need to win or draw against Myanmar to finish second in Group A
Well, the Blue Tigers will need to hold on to their second position with either a victory or a draw against Myanmar. Although both teams currently have the same number of points (three) and goal difference (minus three), India edges out the Chinthe on the number of goals scored.
The top two teams from each group advance to the knockout rounds, along with the four best third-placed teams.
Can India still qualify for the Asian Games knockout stage if they lose against Myanmar?
If India were to slip up in the final group-stage clash, their qualification fate would escape from their own hands. Bangladesh are already out of contention for the knockout spots, so the Blue Tigers will definitely finish third. But that might not just be enough.
After conceding five goals against China, their goal difference has taken a hammering. Before picking out the best-ranked third-placed teams, the results against the fourth-placed teams in four-team groups are excluded, in order to rank them with the same number of matches.
This means that India's victory against Bangladesh might not even be considered if they finish third.
Then, these criteria are followed to rank the teams:
1. Highest number of points obtained in all group matches.
2. Goal difference in all group matches.
3. Highest number of goals scored in all group matches.
4. Fewer points of yellow/red cards in all group matches.
Hence, given the criteria, a loss against Myanmar might strangle India's chances of making it through to the playoffs.