While the game itself had many positives for the Blue Tigers to take away, what it comes down to at the end is whether or not India will get into the second round; something we have never done in the modern era of the tournament.
This time, the tournament consists of 24 teams spread into 6 groups. So the top two teams from each group, followed by the top four among the six third placed teams from all the groups, will qualify for the second round. So, as it stands, just by finishing third India will have a two-thirds chance of making it to the second round.
The most secure path, of course, is to beat Bahrain on 14th January. If India manage to do that, they will ensure a place in the top two; with 6 points and superior in head-to-head to Thailand and Bahrain. So if Thailand beat UAE or hold them to a draw, it will make India the group champions. If UAE beat Thailand, the Blue Tigers will be the second best team in that case.
If India and Bahrain play out a draw, then India will finish in the top two as long as Thailand don't beat UAE. Even if Thailand get a draw against UAE, India will remain above them in head-to-head.
If India and Bahrain draw the match and Thailand beat UAE, we then land in a situation where Thailand top the group with 6 points while both UAE and India finish with 4 points. In this case, due to superior head-to-head, UAE will finish second while India will finish third.
If India lose to Bahrain, we will need UAE to beat Thailand in order to finish third. Otherwise we will drop to the bottom of the table and crash out of the tournament. So, no matter what, India must not lose on Monday if they want to be in the second round.
Now, let's expore the scenario where India have finished third. Here, they will be compared with other teams who have finished third in terms of points earned and goal differnce. Which is why a point earned against Bahrain may prove to be critical; it will not only give India 4 points - a huge advantage - but also an overall positive goal difference.
If India lose on Monday and finish third with 3 points, it's not that all hope will be lost but the chances will go down significantly. We will become more dependent on the results in the other groups.
Basically, we will need two third placed teams to have less points or equal points with worse goal difference than us. And believe it or not, given how many groups are shaping up, it's more likely than not.
First off, unless we lose by a big margin to Bahrain, we will have a decent goal difference. And there are those 3 solid points the Blue Tigers will keep forever. And as of Friday, 11th January, likely candidates are already emerging for third-placed teams who may finish with less points than that.
Group B looks like a possible place that will offer up a weak third-placed team. Jordan have already qualified with 6 points from 2 games, and Australia have regained their form, beating Palestine 3-0 and unless we get a major upset result on the final matchday, neither will lose their final group stage game and finish in the top two. Now, Syria and Palestine are not bad teams by any means, but they played out a draw against each other, setting themselves back in terms of points. So there's a good chance whoever finishes third will have just 1 or 2 points.
Group C, too, looks juicy. China and South Korea have run through Kyrgyzstan and Philippines. The bottom two will face each other 16th January to determine who will finish third with a maximum 3 points. Unless that game is a one sided goalfest, whichever team wins (Kyrgyzstan, more likely) will have a worse goal difference than India.
And there you have it; two teams placed third who are likely to be ranked lower in the ladder than India.
And that's not even taking into account the results of other groups. In Group E, both Lebanon and North Korea are looking shaky, and are likely to end up with a pretty bad goal difference and a maximum 3 points. That group, too, looks ripe for a weak third placed team.
So, to sum up, even if we lose to Bahrain we will stand a chance as long as a bunch of other results go our way. If we get a draw against Bahrain, our chances of qualifying get a major boost (4 points, considering how many groups are shaping up, almost guarantee a place among the top four third placed teams).
But still we would all prefer if India return to winning ways, put all doubts to rest and finish with distinction as one of the top two teams, no? Even with a draw, top two is quite possible, but still, a win will be a huge leg up in terms of rank and confidence.
Especially since if we finish second in the group, we will be facing the runner up of Group C, which barring an upset is going to be China.
The same China we held to a draw in a friendly a while back in their own backyard. China are looking much better now, yes, but we aren't playing too shabby either. Could there be a chance for the Blue Tigers to extend their run in Asian Cup 2019 even beyond the second round?