India’s World Cup and Asian Cup qualifiers deferred to 2021

The exact dates of Indian football team’s three remaining Group E matches will be revealed at a later date.

By Utathya Nag

The Indian football team’s remaining matches in the joint 2022 FIFA World Cup and 2023 AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers have been postponed till 2021 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

India’s three remaining Group E matches were originally scheduled for March-April this year but the coronavirus-enforced lockdown saw them being postponed to October-November.

As per the previous schedule, Igor Stimac’s India were set to host reigning Asian champions Qatar on October 8, travel to neighbouring Bangladesh on November 12 and play Afghanistan at home on November 17 in the final round of matches.

The Indian football team has three matches left in the FIFA World Cup and AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers. Photo: AIFF

However, with COVID still rampant across countries, AFC and FIFA have decided to further postpone the matches to next year. Exact dates for the fixtures will be revealed later.

“With the aim of protecting the health and safety of all participants, FIFA and the AFC will continue to work together to closely monitor the situation in the region and to identify new dates for the respective qualifying matches,” a joint statement issued by FIFA and AFC said.

As things stand for the Indian football team

The Blue Tigers have had a mixed campaign in the qualifiers so far and currently stand fourth in Group E with three points from five matches.

Despite taking the lead against Oman in their opening group game in Guwahati, Sunil Chhetri and Co. conceded two late goals to slump to a 2-1 defeat.

The next match against Qatar in Doha, however, saw India produce one of their most memorable performances in recent years to hold the Asian champions to a goalless draw in their own backyard.

The Indian football team were expected to carry the momentum but back-to-back draws against Bangladesh and Afghanistan followed by a return leg loss to Oman in Muscat saw their charge for a World Cup qualification gradually fizzle out.

With eight group winners and four best runner-ups across groups set to progress into the next round of World Cup qualifiers from the Asian region, India’s chances are as good as over. 

However, a run of good results in the remaining fixtures will help Stimac’s men book a direct berth in the third round for the 2023 Asian Cup Qualifiers.