In Qatar’s Al Rayyan, on January 12 (PTI) – The Indian football team faces a tough challenge in their first AFC Asian Cup group match against Australia, a team considered strong contenders for the title. Despite the difficulty, the Indian team is hopeful of securing a spot in the knockout round.
India has been grouped with Australia, Uzbekistan, and Syria in Group B, making the task challenging. Having been eliminated in the group stage in their last two appearances, India is keen to make it to the round of 16 this time. The team’s fate depends on the outcomes of the matches against Australia, Uzbekistan, and especially Syria on January 23.
For India to have a shot at the knockout stage, a victory against Syria is crucial, which could potentially secure them the third position in the group. The top two teams from each group, along with the four best third-placed teams, move on to the round of 16.
Coach Igor Stimac and captain Sunil Chhetri acknowledge that Australia and Uzbekistan are strong opponents, but a positive outcome against Syria is essential for India’s progression. Chhetri draws hope from India’s past victories against Syria in 2007 and 2009.
A knockout round berth would be a significant achievement for India, especially for Chhetri, who will be playing in his last Asian Cup. The 39-year-old has been a talisman for the team, scoring the most goals by an Indian in the tournament.
Facing the 2015 champions Australia, India starts as the underdog at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium. Australia, a regular in the FIFA World Cup, is aiming to regain the Asian Cup title. The Socceroos boast a mix of experienced and young players.
India, missing three key players due to injuries, aims to keep the damage minimal, considering the importance of goal difference in deciding the third-place team for the round of 16. Captain Mathew Ryan guards the Australian goal, and India faces the challenge of breaching their defense.
Chhetri emphasizes the importance of familiarity with the Australian team, having studied their friendlies and player details. While acknowledging the opponent’s higher level, he believes this knowledge reduces the fear factor.
The historical statistics between India and Australia show eight matches, with Australia winning four times, India thrice, and one draw. Interestingly, all of India’s wins came before 1957.
In a first for the Indian men’s senior team, the match against Australia will see the use of Video Assistant Referee (VAR) technology, making its full debut in Qatar. The Asian Cup matches will also feature the Semi-Automated Offside Technology (SAOT) system.
Japan’s Yoshimi Yamashita will create history as the first woman referee to officiate in an Asian Cup game during the India-Australia match.