Hangzhou: The Indian men’s football team has been clubbed with China, Bangladesh and Myanmar for the Hangzhou Asian Games in a relatively easy Group A, while the women have Thailand and Chinese Taipei in Group B.
The draw was conducted here Thursday.
The Indian men’s and women’s football teams’ participation at the quadrennial extravaganza was confirmed after the Sports Ministry decided to relax the existing selection criteria.
There are six groups in the men’s competition. The top two teams from each group and four best third-placed teams will advance to the round of 16.
As far as the women’s competition is concerned, the top team from each group and the three best second-placed teams will progress to the quarterfinals.
“Host nation China is going to be a very competitive game for our youngsters and I expect that this match will decide the winner of the group.
“With all the respect to Bangladesh and Myanmar, which are similar to us having many, many youngsters in the senior national teams already, we need to outplay them on the pitch. I expect us to win the first position against China, and I expect our youngsters to do a brilliant job for India,” Indian men’s team coach Igor Stimac said on Twitter.
Stimac also spoke about the 2026 World Cup Qualifiers.
“The World Cup Qualifiers draw 2026 was not kind or lucky for us. Having Qatar, one of the best Asian teams in our group, is going to be a big task, but we proved not long ago that we can find our way against such teams.
“And then Kuwait, by far the best team also, and Afghanistan or Mongolia which we played in recent past, once again we need to stay very clear. The second position in the group needs to be ours.
“We need to do everything to prepare well, to get enough time from all the stakeholders of Indian football for a good preparation and make sure that India goes through to the third round of the World Cup Qualifiers,” he said.
For the women’s competition, 17 teams have been divided into five groups where Group A, B and C has three teams each while Group D and E has four teams apiece.
Like the men’s event, the women’s competition shall also consist of two stages; group stage in a single round robin league system and knock-out stage will consist of the quarterfinals, semifinals, bronze medal match and gold medal match, all in single round knockout system.
Indian women’s side head coach Thomas Dennerby said after the draw, “It’s a very interesting draw. We definitely have a good chance against both teams. But our preparation time is the key. We need to work very hard for the next eight weeks.”
India enjoyed early success in men’s football in the Asian Games, winning gold in the inaugural edition in 1951 and repeating the feat in 1962.
The Indian Olympic Association (IOA) had earlier refused to clear the Indian football teams for the Games on the ground that they were not ranked in the top-8 in Asia.
The All India Football Federation (AIFF) then made an appeal to the Sports Ministry to allow the two sides to take part in the prestigious event. Stimac also sought Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s intervention in the matter.
Since 2002, football in the Asian Games has been an U-23 affair with three players above that age being permitted in a team.
However, in this edition of the Games, 24-year-old players are also eligible to play because of the one-year postponement of the Games owing to the rising COVID cases in China last year.
Veteran striker Sunil Chhetri, first-choice goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu and star defender Sandesh Jhingan are set to be part of the Indian men’s team as the three over-age players.
For the 2022 Asian Games, the date of birth cut off was January 1, 1999, and this cut off will remain, the organisers had decided in February. The three overage players will also be allowed to play in the football competition of the mega event.
The Indian men’s team currently occupies the 18th spot among the countries under Asian Football Confederation, while the women’s side is ranked 11th.
The Indian men’s team has entered the sub-100 club in the FIFA rankings once again, having won the SAFF Championship where it played against Lebanon and Kuwait. This year India had also won the Intercontinental Cup and the tri-nation football tournament featuring Kyrgyz Republic and Myanmar.
The women’s team has also done well, beating Kyrgyzstan twice in the Olympic Qualifiers Round 1.
The Asian Games will be held from September 23 to October 8.