CHENNAI: The groups are drawn and the fixtures are ready. Now the mantle falls to the All India Football Federation and India coach Stephen Constantine to chalk out the best possible plan to prepare the team for the tournament. Three days after the draw pitted India against hosts United Arab Emirates, Thailand and Bahrain in Group A of the Asian Cup, the Asian Football Confederations have revealed who, when and where they will be playing. India will play its first game against Thailand on January 6 at the Al Nahyan Stadium in Abu Dhabi.
Four days later, they will take on UAE at the Zayed Sports City Stadium — the tournament’s main venue which will host both the opener and the final — in Abu Dhabi. Their last game will be at the Sharjah Stadium on January 14 against Bahrain. The AIFF’s preparatory plan already had the Intercontinental Cup in June and the SAFF Cup in September. Now they are planning to utilise the friendly dates in October and November. “We will be playing teams that are similar in nature to the ones we are playing in UAE,” sources close to AIFF told Express.
“All the teams that have qualified will be looking for competition, so I don’t think we will have a problem. Stephen Constantine, at the draw, has already had word with a couple of coaches to gauge their interest in playing India.” In December, the players will come together for a camp that will last for at least a couple of weeks. Sources confirmed that talks are on with Indian Super League and I-League officials to introduce a break in December and January.
“Right now the plan is to have the leagues take a break by mid-December and have that continue till the end of the Asian Cup. All parties want to ensure that India have the best possible preparation for the Asian Cup, so we expect this to go smoothly,” sources said.
Kenya to replace SA
Kenya will replace South Africa in the Intercontinental Cup, the AIFF said in a statement on Monday. “The South African FA communicated to us that they were unable to come and play,” a federation official said. “They were interested in coming. But Kenya will be just as tough an opposition for us.”
South Africa’s departure though will take some sheen away from the tournament as the Bafana Bafana — ranked 63rd in the world — were supposed to be its highest-ranked team. In comparison, Kenya is ranked 113th in the world and their inclusion leaves India as the highestranked team (97). But at the same time, Kenya have several Europebased players in their squad — notably Tottenham Hotspur’s Victor Wanayama.