THE INDIAN FOOTBALL TEAM will have to wait longer before they can return to action, due to the continued effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The remaining matches of the 2nd round of the FIFA World Cup / Asian Cup joint qualifiers where the Blue Tigers are scheduled to face Qatar, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, have now been postponed to 2021.
In a letter issued earlier today, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) have announced that due to the threat of coronavirus continuing to loom over many countries, all of those qualifier games across the continent are going to be pushed back.
India were originally scheduled to face the reigning Asian champs Qatar - whom they held to a draw away from home - in Bhubaneswar earlier this year. This was to be followed by a trip to Dhaka for the away match with Bangladesh and a match against Afghanistan in Kolkata's Salt Lake Stadium which demonstrated a full-house overwhelming support for the national team when the played Bangladesh in the home leg encounter.
The matches were originally postponed to take place behind closed doors in October and November. However, the AFC has taken into account the complications regarding international travel and the mandatory quarantine protocols that come with it in the current situation, and decided it's not fit for an international football competition.
While India's chances of advancing to the third round of the World Cup Qualifiers are extremely thin (they have to win all 3 remaining games and hope for Oman to lose their remaining matches, plus beat their goal difference), good results in these matches will help them get into the third round of Asian Cup Qualifiers without having to go through an extra playoff round. Plus, wins in World Cup Qualifiers carry a lot of weightage in the FIFA rankings.
There's no guarantee whether this further delay will see the matches taking place in the presence of spectators or not, but hopefully in 2021 the situation regarding COVID-19 will be more safe for players, referees and staff to travel.