THE ASIAN FOOTBALL CONFEDERATION has decided to move forward with the World Cup 2022 / Asian Cup 2023 joint qualifiers that have been on pause since the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the world.
India were all set to rematch with Asian champions Qatar, who they held to a draw away from home, in a much anticipated game at Bhubaneswar when the coronavirus caused the game to be postponed, along with all domestic competitions in Indian football.
After months of inactivity, the AFC have announced after consulting with member associations, that the matches can finally take place from October onwards.
In a statement the continental football body said,
"Matchdays 7 and 8 are now scheduled to take place on October 8 and 13, 2020 respectively while Matchdays 9 and 10 are due to kick off on November 12 and 17, 2020.
The latest decision has been taken with a view to completing the Preliminary Joint Qualification Round 2 by November 2020 and to commence the subsequent FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Asian Qualifiers Final Round as well as the play-off matches for the AFC Asian Cup China 2023 Round 3 Qualifiers by the March 2021 match dates in the FIFA International Calendar.
The AFC will continue to monitor the situation closely to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all teams, officials, fans and stakeholders as well as Government travel and medical restrictions and will notify all parties should there be a need to reassess the match schedules due to the ever-evolving impact of the COVID-19 pandemic."
This means, India's last three matches in the 2nd Round will take place on the following dates...
October 8, 2020: India vs Qatar (Home)
November 12, 2020: Bangladesh vs India (Away)
November 17: India vs Afghanistan (Home)
The home matches against Qatar & Afghanistan were originally slated to take place in Bhubaneswar and Kolkata respectively, but the AIFF is yet to confirm whether those venues will be used in this new schedule. The question of whether the venues will be open to fans also remains unclear; as such matters will depend on how the state of the virus in the country and the city in question at that time.
India are winless after 5 matches, and have just 3 points to their name; although their performance against Qatar remains a positive example of the team's potential. The Blue Tigers no longer have a chance to top the group, and their chances for qualifying for the next round as one of the top runner ups are also thin at this point; since if Oman (who beat India twice) get just one more point from their remaining 3 matches it will put India out of contention for top two.