AFC Asian Cup 2019: Which countries did not play friendlies at home?

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Seven teams going to the UAE in January 2019 have not hosted a single international friendly this season...

The 2019 AFC Asian Cup is less than a month away as preparations for Asian football's showpiece event, in the UAE, enters the final phase.

In the period after the 2018 FIFA World Cup earlier this year, all the 24 qualified teams would have played close to a combined 175 games before the first match gets underway in the Asian Cup on 5 January.

However, there are seven teams that have failed to host a single home game in the three FIFA international friendly windows in September, October and November 2018, not including the two-week period at the end of December 2018.

Falling in this category is India - fourth-time Asian Cup finals entrants, who are ranked 97th in the world and 15th in Asia.

The Indian national senior team in this period have only played the two matches and both away - China in October and Jordan in November. However, the national team was in action in September during the 2018 SAFF Championship in Bangladesh but head coach Stephen Constantine took with him an Under-23 squad.

Leaving alone the September window, India could have played 4 friendlies going into December but they played half of that. The only test the Blue Tigers have is a friendly against Oman on 27 December, that too in the UAE, before their Group A campaign opener against Thailand on 6 January in Abu Dhabi.

India had officially qualified for the 2019 Asian Cup finals in October 2017, giving the governing body for the sport in India - the All India Football Federation (AIFF) - enough time to arrange friendlies on FIFA international match dates, building up to the event.

China v India starting XI

Arrange they did, but only away games and just the two. Saudi Arabia had agreed in principle to play in a friendly in November but the AIFF failed to convince them to come to India and play, resulting in the West Asian team pulling out as they wanted to play at their home. 

The other six teams that fall under the same bracket with India are - Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, North Korea and Turkmenistan. What does it tell?

There are absolutely no footballing activities in Yemen because of an ongoing civil war for the last three years. Syria and Iraq play their home matches in a neutral venue because of the political unrest at home. Only selected countries have diplomatic ties with North Korea and it is unlikely for them to play extensive international friendlies. 

Only Lebanon have suffered a fate similar to India and then there is Turkmenistan in the list - whose national team have not played a single match since March 2018, making for sorry reading in terms of preparation on home soil for the mega event.

Lebanon, on the other hand, have played a lot of matches which is quite different from India's preparation, having played just the two games - one of which was reduced to a farce after a flight delay forced Constantine to play with a makeshift team. 

This is not to say that playing away is bad. Playing several friendlies at home in the build up to the Asian Cup would have given the side some much-needed confidence and would've boosted the interest of the fans as well. 

India last played at home in the Intercontinental Cup which though they won, consisted of second string teams of New Zealand and Kenya

India might have missed a mark by not organising home friendlies in the runup to the extravaganza. 

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