The Indian team will play in the final tournament of the 2024 Asian Cup of Nations in Qatar. This will be the fifth Asian Cup for the Indian team. The best result was the second place in 1964. After that, the team only went further than the group stage. Let’s look at the Indian team’s perspectives at the upcoming Asian Cup.
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Pathway in qualification
Here is a quick review of India’s performance in the qualifiers. Thanks to FIFA rankings, India started qualification from the second round, being in the same group as Qatar, Oman, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh. The Indian team managed only one win against Bangladesh and drew four other matches. This allowed them to finish third in the group, which gave them a ticket to the third qualification round. One of India’s best players was the legendary Sunil Chhetri, who scored three goals in 8 matches.
Already in the third round, India was placed in the same group with Hong Kong, Afghanistan, and Cambodia. Here Igor Štimac‘s team showed a great result by winning all the games and taking first place. This guaranteed the Indian team a ticket to the final part of the Asian Cup.
For the first time in history, the Indian national team has reached the Asian Cup finals for the second consecutive time.
Asian Cup Final
According to FIFA rankings, the Indian team was placed in the fourth basket in the draw. The blind lot brought the Indians a quartet with Australia, Uzbekistan, and Syria. The group stage matches will be played for India at Al Rayyan and Al Khor.
A total of 24 teams are participating in the tournament, spread across 6 groups. The best 2 teams from each group and the top 4 teams who are placed third will advance to the 1/8 finals.
The head coach of the Indian national team Igor Štimac, commenting on his team’s preparation for the tournament, complains about the insufficient training time. The Indian team will get only two weeks to prepare for the final part of the tournament. However, Štimac wanted a full four weeks to get ready. But India’s top clubs did not go along and agreed to postpone the last matches of 2024 to release players to the national team early.
Thus, the head coach said the Asia Cup is not India’s top priority. The tournament is a way to prepare for future World Cup 2026 qualification matches.
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However, the Indian national team has a good chance of successfully qualifying for the group stage. The group favorite is Australia, considered one of the main front-runners for the entire Asian Cup. However, Štimac’s team may well put up a fight against Uzbekistan and Syria. In addition, three teams from the group can qualify for the playoff round this year.
India has a good generation of footballers who can fight for severe results in the international arena. In the last five years, India has won the South Asian Cup twice and finished runners-up once more.
The main talisman, perhaps, for the Indian national team will be Sunil Chhetri. The 39-year-old forward is the national team’s record holder in terms of matches played and goals scored. In addition, Chhetri ranks fourth in the world in the number of goals for the national team in official matches. Above him, only Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, and Iranian Ali Daei. To overtake Lionel Messi and join the top three, Chhetri needs to score 13 more goals for India. However, he is already an international legend. This Asian Cup could be Chhetri’s swan song in the Indian national team. However, the 39-year-old striker is in no hurry to announce the end of his career.
Other vital players are Lallianzuale Chhangte, Akash Mishra and Naorem Roshan Singh.
Chhangte is India’s top-ranked footballer in 2024 and has solid international experience. Mishra is quite a versatile wing-back who can bring a lot of danger to opponents in attack as well. In 2024, he received the award of Best Young Footballer of India.
Naorem Singh is a dangerous wide player with excellent speed. In 2024, he became one of the key players in the Indian team when they won the Three Nations tournament.