The excitement that was buzzing around the Indian football team after their stunning 4-1 victory against Thailand in the campaign opener, soon turned into nervousness after they were beaten 2-0 by UAE in the second match. However, the Blue Tigers are very much in the qualification fray.
We’re optimistic people and would very much like to believe that Sunil Chhetri and Co. could overcome Bahrain in their third and final group match. Another major reason for this primary assumption would be that Bahrain was beaten 1-0 by Thailand, the team that India defeated 4-1. Despite the 2-0 scoreline looking very one-dimensional against the host nation, India did manage a good nine shots at the target with two of them right at the goalkeeper and two shattering the crossbar, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see India beating Bahrain easily.
If India beat Bahrain, then it is history created as they won’t have to rely on any other result as they will end with six points from three matches. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the top spot would be guaranteed for India. For example, if UAE beats Thailand, who are favourites to go through to the knockouts, India would finish as the runners-up to UAE’s seven points.
The second scenario and the odds for this happening are pretty high – if India draws with Bahrain. Getting a mandatory win could be immense pressure for the Men in Blues given the fact that achieving it could guarantee them something they have never done before in the history of the tournament – advance to the knockout stages.
However, even in such a scenario, India’s chances of going through are still looking strong courtesy to their opening win against Thailand. But, that would essentially need UAE to beat Thailand for guaranteeing India a second-placed finish while UAE top the group. In case Thailand and UAE play out a draw, the hosts still go through as table toppers and India follow them because of the better head-to-head results with Thailand.
So far, so good. Now, a tricky situation arises only if Thailand surprises everyone and India play out a draw. The War Elephants would guarantee themselves as the winner of the group if they win and UAE would go as the runner-ups. However, India could still have a small window to advance as of the best third-placed teams, although that would keep nothing in India’s hands.
The final scenario and the one we are not willing to fantasize at all is if India loses to Bahrain. In such a case, India’s chance of an automatic progression to the knockouts is definitely obliterated. And as far as the best third-placed team is concerned, they would have to wait for other results to go their way. India would need to pray that Thailand doesn’t draw or win against UAE, for that happening would see India finish at the bottom of the table and of course, crash out.
However, if UAE defeats Thailand, which is highly likely for they have done considerably well in Asian Cup when hosting the tournament, like in 1996 when they went to the final, India would be third again with their prayers continuing to keep them as one of the best of the three third-placed sides from six groups.