Indian football team head coach Igor Stimac and the players are excited about playing their third round qualifiers matches of the 2023 AFC Asian Cup at home in June this year, saying they will aim to seal a berth in the main tournament.
The third round qualifiers of the 2023 Asian Cup will be played in six centralised venues and the group matches involving India will be held at the Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata across three match days on June 8, 11 and 14 this year.
The other five group matches will be held in Kuwait, Kyrgyz Republic, Malaysia, Mongolia and Uzbekistan. The six group winners and the best five second-placed teams earn a ticket to the Asian Cup, which is slated to kick-off next year on June 16 in China.
Stimac is hoping that spectators will be allowed to watch the matches by that time.
“We are very happy ... we need to prepare in the best possible fashion, and pray that the fans get an opportunity to be with us at the stadium, and cheer us to victory,” Stimac said in a release from the All Indian Football Federation.
AIFF Player of the Year and central defender Sandesh Jhingan said it was a "huge bonus" for the team to get to host the final round of the qualifiers in India.
"Playing such important games in your own backyard is always an added advantage, and that makes me happy. I hope the fans get to throng the stadium, and root for us.
"It will be an extra motivation for the players. We will do everything possible in our might to get the job done to provide happiness and pride to the fans. We are looking forward to it,” Jhingan said.
In preparation for the qualifiers in June, the Blue Tigers are playing two international friendlies against Bahrain and Belarus on March 23 and 26, respectively.
Goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu echoed the same feelings, saying it’s an “advantage” to play at home.
“I am extremely happy that we are to play the qualifiers in Kolkata. It will give us immense inspiration playing on our home soil. I just can't wait to get with the team, and start preparing. I pray that everyone stays free of injuries."
Gurpreet’s goalkeeper colleague Amrinder Singh said, "It will be quite an achievement for India to qualify for Asian Cup in consecutive editions as it hasn’t ever happened before.
"In that sense, winning the bid, and organising it in Kolkata is so encouraging. Playing at home is always an added advantage. We need to make the most of it,” he added.
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