AIFF hoping for strong show in Hangzhou Asian games


Indian football’s “rapid strides in recent past” and an upsurge in public interest in the sport presented a “compelling case” for the inclusion of the men’s and women’s teams for the upcoming Asian Games, national federation president Kalyan Chaubey said. The participation of the Indian men’s and women’s football sides in the Hangzhou Games was earlier in doubt as per the sports ministry’s criteria of sending teams which are ranked in top-8 in the continent. The sports ministry later cleared both the teams by relaxing the criteria after an appeal from the All India Football Federation (AIFF).
The Indian men’s team won the tri-nation tournament, Intercontinental Cup and SAFF Championships earlier this year and moved back to below 100 in FIFA rankings for the first time since 2018, showing signs of steady improvement. “The combined viewership of SAFF Championship on our YouTube channel saw an impressive influx of fans participation, our women’s team progressed to the Round 2 of Olympics qualifying,” said Chaubey, a former India goalkeeper.
India is currently ranked 18th among countries under the Asian Football Confederation. But, out of the 23 competing countries in the Asian Games, India is at 13th spot as higher ranked countries such as Iraq, United Arab Emirates, Oman and Jordan are not taking part. Third-ranked Australia does not feature in the Asian Games. Chaubey also confirmed that India will field the best available senior men’s team with the talismanic Sunil Chhetri as captain and the country can expect a strong show in the Asian Games, scheduled from September 23 to October 8.
The team will also be helmed by head coach Igor Stimac as the country returns to the Asian Games football competition after missing out in 2018.
India’s number one goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu and defensive mainstay Sandesh Jhingan are expected to be the other two over-age players. Asian Games football competition is Under-23 affair but due to the one-year delay of this edition, the organisers have allowed those who are 24 years old with the cut-off date of birth being fixed at January 1, 1999. This meant that at least half a dozen players — apart from the senior trio of Chhetri, Gurpreet and Jhingan — from the team that had won the SAFF Championships earlier this month can also be picked for the Asian Games.
“Participation in Asian Games has its significance in the current context of Indian football. There is an air of positivity around Indian football and I believe Asian Games results will provide further impetus for the growth of the sport in India,” Chaubey said.