India set to play Saudi Arabia, China in run-up to AFC Asian Cup

The Indian football team is set to play international friendlies against higher-ranked Saudi Arabia and China in the run-up to next year’s AFC Asian Cup, according to a top official of the All India Football Federation (AIFF).

Sunil Chhetri led from the front as India won the Intercontinental Cup recently.   -  AP

The Indian football team is set to play international friendlies against higher-ranked Saudi Arabia and China in the run-up to next year’s AFC Asian Cup, according to a top official of the All India Football Federation (AIFF).

The 2019 Asian Cup will be held from January 5 to February 1 across eight centres in four United Arab Emirates cities.

India is clubbed with UAE, Thailand and Bahrain in Group A of the continental showpiece.

Talks with both the federations are in advanced stages, AIFF general secretary Kushal Das said.

“We are in talks with them and it’s almost 90 percent. We are trying to arrange one home and one away game around October-November,” Das said.

Saudi Arabia, who is participating in the ongoing FIFA world Cup in Russia, is currently ranked 67, while China is placed 75th.

India, meanwhile, is ranked 97th in the FIFA charts.

The top 24 teams from all over Asia are drawn into six groups of four teams each.

The top AIFF official said they are looking to arrange matches for the national team keeping in line with FIFA’s changed ranking system.

India, ranked 14, in Asian region, is high on confidence following their title triumph in the Intercontinental Cup recently.

Inspirational captain Sunil Chhetri scored a brace to lead the home side to a 2-0 win over Kenya in the summit clash at the Mumbai Football Arena on June 10. Teams in a group will play each other once and the top two from each group will qualify for the Round of 16 along with the best four third-placed teams.

The continental championship will be held across eight stadia in four cities in the UAE — Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah and Al Ain.

This is India’s fourth qualification in the Asian Cup.

India had finished runner-up to Israel in 1964. In the 1984 edition, India crashed out at the group stage with one draw and three losses.

For India coach Stephen Constantine and Chhetri, the Intercontinental Cup showing is only a step in preparation for the Asian Cup.

The 33-year-old Chhetri’s double strike capped a brilliant tournament which saw him score eight out of India’s 11 goals and put him on par with Argentine superstar Lionel Messi with 64 goals.