Facing an uphill challenge in the form of 25th-ranked Australia, 102nd-placed India showed a gritty defensive act in their AFC Asian Cup 2023 opener to restrict the Socceroos to only a 2-0 victory. The Blue Tigers went into half-time scoreless but their resistance was broken in the 50th minute when goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu’s error was punished by Jackson Irvine. Australia got their second through 21-year-old Jordan Boss only seconds after coming onto the pitch. However, Graham Arnold’s team had to labour for the win with India doing commendable work against an opponent they needed a miracle to win.
That being said, the outcome of the match could have been different had Sunil Chhetri found the net with his header from a golden chance he got in the first half and if Apuia’s interception rolled into an empty net at 1-0 down with Matt Ryan out of his goal. Nevertheless, India will be in high spirits on the back of the performance shown against a side who are World Cup regulars and will want to take the positives to the remaining group games. India will take on Uzbekistan and Syria next, hoping to fulfill their dreams of qualifying for the knockouts of the Asian Cup for the first time in their history.
Check here India squad for AFC Asian Cup 2023
How can India qualify for AFC Asian Cup 2023 knockouts?
The top two teams from six groups in the Asian Cup 2023 will earn a direct entry to the Round of 16 stage of the competition. Along with them, the four best third-place teams will also qualify. Realistically, India’s route to make it out of the group stages will be finishing third as an automatic berth looks a far-fetched objective for the side. For that, the Blue Tigers will have to win at least one match either against Uzbekistan or Syria and wish their goal difference is better than the remaining third-place side should the points remain equal with the other sides. Avoiding a thrashing against Australia in the opener gives them an advantage in that regard.
However, the best option for India is to avoid another defeat and pick up a possible four points from the remaining games to be certain of the third spot in the group. Winning against Uzbekistan might be a difficult task, if not impossible, as they have not won in this meeting before. A draw will be a welcoming result considering the Central Asian side shared spoils with Syria in their opening group match. Igor Stimac’s side could wish for a victory against Syria in their final group match having a three-game unbeaten run against them including two wins. That fixture might turn out to be one of the most important ones in Indian football history.
India’s remaining group fixtures in the AFC Asian Cup 2023
Thursday, 18 January 2024
India vs Uzbekistan - Al Rayyan Stadium, Al Rayyan (20:00)
Tuesday, 23 January 2024
Syria vs India - Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor (17:00)