AFC Asian Cup 2019 | Qualification Scenarios : Every possible way India can qualify for the knockouts

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AFC Asian Cup 2019 | Qualification Scenarios : Every possible way India can qualify for the knockouts

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Subhayan Dutta


While things could have been pretty straight forward had India managed a win or even a draw against hosts UAE, which many were hoping they would, it didn’t happen. However, it doesn’t necessarily make India’s third and last group game with Bahrain a must win either. Here’s how.

With the initiative to expand the AFC Asian Cup into a 24 team tournament, in came the third-placed rule. According to it, apart from the six group winners and runners-ups, four of the best third-placed teams would also be qualifying to the round of 16 of the Asian Cup.

Hence, the group stages are far from being sealed as of now and India with a win already in their bag stand a brilliant chance of going into the knockout stages for the first time in its history since the round-robin system was scrapped in 1972. Before going into the permutations, combinations and the assumptions, here’s a fact from history - in the three 24-team World Cups that had featured a round of 16 format between 1986 and 1994, no team managing a win and a draw from their three group matches had ever failed to reach the knockout stage.

Apart from history, the one other thing going for India is their goal difference. Of course, if two teams or more are level on points after their three group stage games, the standard procedure will follow the order of goal difference, goals scored, fair play and national team co-efficient to hand teams preference. And India, courtesy to their 4-1 win over Thailand, should not be too worried in this aspect. 

If India win against Bahrain

While a win over Bahrain would all but ensure India’s progress, India would still want to qualify as the first team to get an easier opponent in the round of 16. However, it is not in their hands for UAE’s win over Thailand would automatically mean India sit second. A Thailand win would see the War Elephants on level points with India but their current goal difference of -2 compared to India’s 1 should possibly see India top the table unless there have a resounding win over the hosts.

If India draw with Bahrain

Given the fact that Bahrain managed to hold UAE in the first group game, the chances of that happening against India are pretty high. However, in such a case India would finish with four points and their strong goal difference could see them qualify from the second place itself. The only tricky part would be if Thailand beat UAE, but even in that case, the War Elephants would need to win at least by three goals to best India’s goal difference in order to finish in the second place. It would still mean India qualify as one of the four best third-placed teams.

As per the group standings, apart from Goup A – UAE 4 pts, India 3 pts, Thailand 3 pts, Bahrain 1pt - and Group B – Jordan 6 pts, Australia 3 pts, Syria 1 pt, Palestine 1 pt - no other group is closely contested enough to even have a possibility of three teams qualifiying from the second place. Hence, even if India manage to lose against Bahrain, unless and until they do it by an astronomical margin, they pretty much ensure their advancement into the knockout stages. Group B has Jordan already going through with six points while Australia sitting second with three points. Both Syria (3rd) and Palestine (4th) are on one point each, but they play Australia and Jordan respectively.

It would be safe to start with a disclaimer that that in case India lose and Thailand beat UAE, the Blue Tigers would finish at the bottom of the table and no amount of goal difference, goal scored, or fair play would factor in the equation. Hence, our calculation is based only on the basis that Thailand lose alongside India in the last group game.

If India lose to Bahrain by a difference of one goal

In case of a loss to Bahrain by a one goal margin, India’s goal difference reduces to 0, meaning Syria would need to beat Australia by 3-0 to best India’s GD. However, an underperforming Syria have failed to win their two group matches and their last two matches against Australia have also seen them go winless. Palestine have a tougher task at hand of beating Jordan 4-0 in such a case, which looks highly unlikely too, for they have lost to Jordan thrice in their last four encounters, drawing only one.

With China and South Korea already qualifying from Group C, either Kyrgyzstan or the Philippines could have a shot at finishing as the better third-placed side as they play each other. However, for that, Kyrgyzstan have to win by three goals and the Philippines need to win by a whopping margin of five. The Philippines have beaten Kyrgyzstan twice in the two times they have met before but a 5-0 win still seems unlikely, especially given the fact that the Philippines have lost both their group stage games so far, conceding four goals.

In Group D, both Iran and Iraq are through leaving Vietnam and Yemen to fight out for the prized third place. Both the sides have started their campaign with two consecutive losses, however, while Vietnam would need a 4-0 win to leapfrog India, Yemen need a 9-0 win that isn’t probable. However, Yemen and Vietnam have had some competitive games in the past with three draws and two wins shared between them.

Group E and F are similar to the previous two groups. Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Japan, and Uzbekistan have all qualified with two consecutive wins on the trot leaving the remaining two teams in each group to play against it each other. Lebanon take on North Korea in a must wingame for both but Lebanon need to win 5-0 to better India’s record while North Korea would need an 11-0 mean. Lebanon have beaten North Korea thrice in their last five meets and drew the other two. Besides, North Korea conceding as many as 10 goals in the first two games makes Lebanon’s chances better.

Oman face Turkmenistan, where Oman need to win by a margin of three goals while Turkmenistan needfour goal difference. Their last three head to head suggests it could be a tricky fixture with Oman and Turkmenistan winning once each and drawing out the third one.

If India lose to Bahrain 2-0

The scenario gets worse here with India’s goal difference standing at -1 now. It surely makes things easier for many other sides. A two goal win for Syria over Australia in Group B, which looks very likely, could see them overcoming India in the best four third-placed teams. Palestine, however, will still have a tough time beating Jordan 3-0 to better India’s GD.

In Group C, Kyrgyzstan would need to ensure they win against the Philippines by a scoreline of at least two goals, with Kyrgyzstan will need to win that game by five goals if they have any chance of making it through. Group D won’t be getting much easier anyway, as Vietnam would be needing a win by three goals over Yemen the latter would have to win by a margin of eight goals. Group E would see Lebanon needing a win by atleast four goals over North Korea while the Chollima would still need a massive ten goal win. In Group F, however, both Oman and Turkmenistan have a better chance. While Oman need a handy win by just two goals, Turkmenistan can actually qualify with a three goal win.

If India lose to Bahrain 3-0

This is definitely the worst case scenario for Stephen Constantine’s men. Their goal difference would be reduced to -2, making it very difficult to even classify in the four best third-placed teams of the six groups. So, Syria could target for a customary 1-0 over Australia while Palestine could strategize for a much more realistic 2-0 win over Jordan, who would take it easy since their qualification is already guaranteed.

Kyrgyzstan could totally ignore their previous losses with the Philippines aiming for a simple 1-0 win, which would more suitable for them as the Philippines will be under pressure to win 4-0 to have any chance. Vietnam will have to win 2-0 against Yemen, while Lebanon could still go for a very much possible 3-0 win. Oman would be the happiest as they are more than equipped to go for a win 1-0 against Turkmenistan, while the Turks can also eye a 2-0 win the opposite way.

Basically, India losing 3-0 would make most other matches extremely exciting.

If India lose to Bahrain 4-0

Honestly, if India go down 4-0 to a Bahrain side in a match that they should ideally approach with a must-win mindset, they don’t deserve to be progressing anyway. However, interestingly, the last time when India had met Bahrain, it was also January 14 in AFC Asian Cup 2011 and the Blue Tigers went down 5-2. However, Chhetri, who was one of India’s goal scorers then, would surely not allow history to repeat itself.

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