Three times quarter-finalists UAE, alongside Kyrgyzstan and Oman, were grouped with India following today’s AFC U23 Asian Cup qualifiers draw.
The Indian team is in Group-E of the AFC West Zone after being drawn in Pot Number 3. Pot 3 of the West Region contained Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, India, Lebanon, and Yemen. Potting was done based on the performance of the teams in the previous AFC U23 Championship.
Having been drawn against the much stronger Oman, UAE, and Kyrgyzstan, the U23 boys will face a tough challenge this time. UAE has reached the quarter-finals three times in the last four editions. Oman qualified for the group stages twice, while India and Kyrgyzstan have never qualified.
Oman had made it to the group stages last in the 2017-18 edition. They secured a bottom spot in a group containing Qatar, China, and Uzbekistan after losing three out of three games. Despite finishing second in their qualifiers group, they failed to advance past the 2019-20 edition preliminary stage.
A year after failing to qualify for the main tournament, UAE made a great comeback and reached the quarter-finals in 2019-20. The country qualified as group toppers in a group containing Saudi Arabia, Maldives, and Lebanon and went on to top the group stage of the main tournament. The group consisted of Jordan, North Korea, and Vietnam. However, they ultimately lost to Uzbekistan in the quarter-finals.
Kyrgyzstan, like India, has never qualified for the main competition. In 2018, they finished third in the qualifiers group; in 2020, they finished fourth without winning any of their matches.
India has not qualified for the AFC U23 Asian Cup ever in their history. After being drawn into Qatar, Syria, and Turkmenistan, India finished third in the qualifiers group in 2018. The Indian Team was grouped with Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Pakistan last year. With two losses from two games, they exited the qualifiers once again in a shameful manner.
Although it may seem like a challenging task on paper, India has high expectations from a new and spirited batch of young talents eager to show what they can do on the international stage.
The qualifiers are expected to be held in October. 41 countries, divided into the West and East zones, will compete for a place in the main competition. The 11 group toppers will go through, along with 4 of the best second-placed teams. Uzbekistan, the host country, has already qualified for the tournament.
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