The Indian team was drawn alongside Hong Kong, Afghanistan, and Cambodia in Group D of the 2023 AFC Asian Cup final round qualifiers to be played in Kolkata in June this year.
The official draw ceremony was held at the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) headquarters in Kuala Lumpur.
India will play Cambodia on June 8, followed by matches against Afghanistan on June 11 and Hong Kong on June 14. All matches will be played at Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata.
The participating 24 teams have been divided into six groups. The six group winners and the five best second-placed teams will earn a ticket to the AFC Asian Cup in China in 2023.
The Blue Tigers had made it to the final round of the qualifiers after finishing third in Group E in the second round of the 2022 FIFA World Cup and 2023 AFC Asian Cup Joint Qualifiers.
“Draws can always be good or bad. But we need to do our job,” head coach Igor Stimac said after the draw.
Commenting about the teams in the group, Stimac urged everyone to “take it seriously to get the job done.”
“Afghanistan have always been a difficult opponent. They come with players who have experience playing in international leagues.
“Hong Kong will also be strengthened with their three players from Brazil, maybe one each from the UK, and New Zealand join them, along with a host of others who play abroad. But we need to justify our position as a pot 1 team,” the head coach said.
“We are playing at home, and hopefully with the fans cheering us from the stands, the players will be extra motivated.”
Bagan, Mumbai City players to join Kolkata camp late in May
Stimac plans to start preparatory camp in Kolkata from first the week of May but at least half a dozen players from ATK Mohun Bagan and Mumbai City FC will be busy with their AFC Champions League commitment and will only join after May 25 and 29 respectively.
“We plan to begin our preparatory camp in Kolkata from the first week of May. But players from Mumbai City FC won’t be available before May 29 owing to their club commitments in the AFC Champions League.
“Furthermore, ATK Mohun Bagan is also likely to be involved in the AFC Cup, and their players will also be unavailable till May 25,” Stimac informed.
And there are almost 12 or more players from both the clubs who are part of the national team.”
During that time, Stimac will check on the other players.
“In such a situation, we need to check on other players, prepare them and wait for the others to join. The situation is very similar to March prior to the friendlies,” he added.
The Blue Tigers are playing Bahrain and Belarus on March 23 and 26 respectively in two international friendlies.
June 8: India vs Cambodia
June 11: Afghanistan vs India
June 14: India vs Hong Kong.