Abu Dhabi: India were on Monday drawn in a comparatively easier group in the AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers beginning in March as they were clubbed along with Macau, Myanmar and Kyrgyz Republic in Group A.
Seeking to make it to the AFC Asian Cup Finals after their last appearance in 2011 in Qatar, India will begin their campaign against Myanmar in an away match on 28 March.
The qualifying tournament, to be competed among 24 teams, divided into six group of four teams, will be played in home-and-away format.
The winners and runners-up from each group – a total of 12 teams – will qualify for the final competition of the AFC Asian Cup in United Arab Emirates in 2019.
They will be joined by the 12 other teams – Australia, China, Iraq, Iran, Japan, Korea Republic, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Thailand, Uzbekistan and hosts UAE – who have already qualified for the final competition through the 2018 Fifa World Cup and 2019 AFC Asian Cup Preliminary Joint Qualification Round 2.
The AFC Asian Cup will be held from 5 January to 1 February in 2019 at four cities - Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Al Ain and Sharjah - in the UAE.
Macau are the lowest-ranked side in the draw at 184th as against 129th of India. Kyrgyz Republic and Myanmar are at 124th and 159th ranks on the latest Fifa chart.
National coach Stephen Constantine, who attended the draw ceremony in Abu Dhabi as an invitee, said, "Though there are no easy games for us, the target is to win our home games and qualify for the 2019 Asian Cup.
"We are delighted to be in the draw. We believe that the qualifying campaign was a good lesson for us as it gave us the opportunity to introduce some new players who by now have that little bit of experience of playing international football. We need to work extremely hard to keep alive our hopes of qualifying," he said.
Constantine, who has been keeping a close watch on the I-League proceedings, said that there would be "ample opportunities for players to make their case for the national team".
"Not that the I-League has begun, any player can make his claim for a call to the camp with his performance. We will be selecting 30 players for the camp in March and previous records are not a guarantee for an automatic call up to the camp," he stated.
All the home-and-away matches of this qualifying round will be played during the official Fifa days from 28 March, 2017 to 27 March, 2018.
28 March, 2017: India vs Myanmar (Away).
13 June, 2017: India vs Kyrgyz Republic (Home).
5 September, 2017: India vs Macau (Away).
10 October, 2017: India vs Macau (Home).
14 November, 2017: India vs Myanmar (Home).
27 March, 2018: India vs Kyrgyz Republic (Away).
Updated Date: Jan 23, 2017 20:42:02 IST