India will be squaring off against Cambodia in the first match of the Asian Cup Qualifiers on Wednesday at the VYBK in Kolkata.
India are in Group D for the final round of the Asian Cup qualifiers with Cambodia, Hong Kong and Afghanistan.
This will be the final chance for India to secure an Asian Cup spot. Sunil Chhetri and Co. had failed to secure a continental berth in the second round of qualifiers after finishing behind reigning Asian champions Qatar and Oman in Group E.
The third round of the qualifiers will see 24 teams vie for 11 remaining spots. The sides have been divided into six groups of four teams each.
Teams in each group will play each other once, and the eventual group winner and five best runner-ups will qualify for Asian Cup 2023.
Igor Stimac‘s India will start as the favourites to progress from Group D. Barring the obvious home turf advantage, India are also the best-ranked team in the group, placed 106th in the latest FIFA Rankings. Hong Kong are 147th, Afghanistan are 150th, and Cambodia are 171st.
India have also named a strong team for the qualifiers, with big names like Sunil Chhetri, Sandesh Jhingan and Gurpreet Singh Sandhu all featuring. Youngster Liston Colaco will be
in focus for the upcoming matches after a slew of fine performances with ATK Mohun Bagan in the AFC Cup group stage recently.
Speaking at the official pre-match press conference, Stimac stated, “We are expecting the fans to come in numbers, to support the national team in the best way possible. Our intent is to press from the start, and play at high pressure, and at a high intensity. We need to control the game, and I have to say we are ready for that. We have nothing to hide.”
Star defender Sandesh Jhingan felt, “qualifying for the Asian Cup should be a norm for Indian football. The mentality needs to be that India will be at the Asian Cup.”
Meanwhile, Cambodia coach Hirose Ryu mentioned that their team is “motivated to play away from home.” “It does not matter where we are playing, and we will be giving our best,” Ryu mentioned. Player Soeuy Visal complimented it, saying they are “confident, and despite India being a higher-ranked opponent, we have immense trust in their abilities.”
The Blue Tigers play on home soil for the first time in almost three years. Incidentally, the last time they played at home, it was in Kolkata in October 2019. “It will be massive, otherwise why do teams enjoy having the home advantage? And what better place to have it than Kolkata. Wherever we have played, even in Gujarat (Intercontinental Cup) last time, we had tremendous support despite us not usually playing there,” Chhetri said on Monday.
Venue: Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan, Kolkata
Date: Wednesday, June 8
Time: 8.30 pm IST