India have been drawn alongside Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar & Macau in the final qualification round for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup to be held in United Arab Emirates (UAE). The draw was held on 23rd January, Monday, at Abu Dhabi.
24 teams are in contention for qualifying for the tournament and they were drawn into six groups of four teams each. India were drawn into Group A.
All four teams in a group will play home-and-away round-robin matches. The winner and runner-up from each group will gain qualification to the continent's premier competition, where they will be joined by the 12 teams which qualified directly from the second round of qualifying.
India were seeded into the second pot for the draw, thanks to their latest FIFA ranking (129th).
India had last qualified to the competition through the traditional route back in 1984, while winning the AFC challenge Cup in 2008 earned them a berth in the 2011 AFC Asian Cup. Chuni Goswami and co. had become the runners-up in the third edition of the competition 53 years ago, which remains the nation's best show at the continental stage.
Kyrgyzstan are expected to be India's strongest challengers and are ranked 124th in the world, while Myanmar (159th) and Macau (184th) are placed significantly lower than The Blue Tigers.
Team India head coach Stephen Constantine sounded positive in the aftermath of the draw. “We are delighted to be in the draw. We believe that the qualifying campaign was a good lesson for us as it gave us the opportunity to introduce some new players who by now have that little bit of experience of playing International Football,” he told www.the-aiff.com from Abu Dhabi.
“We need to work extremely hard to keep alive our hopes of qualifying," he added. Constantine also revealed that he is keeping an eye on the I-League and will select his team for the qualifiers based on performances.
“Now that the Hero I-League has begun, any player can make his claim for a call to the camp with his performance. We will be selecting 30 players for the camp in March and previous records are not a guarantee for an automatic all up to the camp,” he stated.
India will kickstart their campaign by playing Myanmar away on 28th March before hosting Kyrgyzstan on June 13th. That precedes a double header with Macau on September 5th (away) and October 10th (home). Stephen Constantine's side then host Myanmar on November 14th before finishing their campaign away to Kyrgyzstan on March 27th, 2018.
The official logo for the tournament was also unveiled prior to the draw. Here is the full draw:
Group A: Kyrgyzstan, India, Myanmar, Macau
Group B: North Korea, Hong Kong, Lebanon, Malaysia
Group C: Jordan, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Cambodia
Group D: Oman, Palestine, Maldives, Bhutan
Group E: Bahrain, Turkmenistan, Chinese Taipei, Singapore
Group F: Philippines, Tajikistan, Yemen, Nepal