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Looking to make an impression: India SWOT analysis ahead of 2023 AFC Asian Cup | Football News

The 2023 AFC Asian Cup gets underway on Friday and India will face Australia in their first match on Saturday. The Blue Tigers have in fact been placed in a bit of a group of death, with Australia, Syria and Uzbekistan. The lowest-ranked side among the three countries are Syria at 91 while Uzbekistan are 68th and Australia are 25th on the FIFA standings. India are ranked 102, which means that getting any kind of favourable result in the group stage is a long shot.

Sunil Chhetri will be the face of the team once again(REUTERS)
Sunil Chhetri will be the face of the team once again(REUTERS)

The Indian team is under no illusions about this. Captain Sunil Chhetri admitted that getting any kind of favourable result against Australia will be quite an achievement. “We want to have the biggest underdogs’ result in the first game. No one, not even your friends, is giving you a chance. Imagine, if you get a result against Australia, that is something you are going to die with,” Chhetri told Hindustan Times. With this in mind, let’s take a look at the major strengths and weaknesses for India going into the tournament.

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Strengths: Nothing to lose, surprise factor, pace on the counter

The only real strength for India when facing sides so far ahead of them is the fact that teams like Australia, Uzbekistan and Syria have hardly ever played against them in the recent past. The two sides have faced each other just eight times and six of those came in 1938, one in 1956. The last time they played each other was at the 2011 Asian Cup. The last time India faced Uzbekistan was back in 2001. India did play Syria in 2019 but that was the only game the two sides played against each other in a decade.

The teams would do well to not misjudge India based on their rankings as Igor Stimac’s men have proven themselves to be a tough team to beat India are sure to prioritise defence in the three group stage matches that they have ahead of them but they have shown how tenacious they can be when hitting the team on the counter, particularly with pacy full backs Nikhil Poojary and Akash Mishra charging down the wings. Finally, the fact there will hardly be any pressure on India will work in their favour, especially if they do manage to take a surprise lead at any point of the games.

Weakness: Lack of reliable goalscoring options apart from Chhetri, injury issues

Chhetri being India’s foremost striker at the age of 39 and being a guaranteed starter in that position is as much a reflection of the lack of reliable strikers for the country as it is a testimony to his brilliance. Moreover, Chhetri hasn’t been at his very best in recent months playing for Bengaluru FC in the ISL, scoring just three goals in 11 games. Even then, it will be a shock if Stimac plays Ishan Pandita ahead of the Indian captain, not just because of the latter’s stature but also for the fact that Pandita, like so many other Indian strikers, are yet to prove that they can dislodge Chhetri from the position. Regardless of his form in the league, Chhetri always dials it up a notch when playing for India and if the opposition mark him out of the game, India would find it difficult to get on the scoresheet. India are also going in with some of their crucial players out due to injuries. Centre-back Anwar Ali, midfielders Jeakson Singh, Rohit Kumar and forward Ashique Kuruniyan are all not part of the Indian squad in Qatar.

Opportunities: Chance for game time ahead of crucial World Cup qualification matches

Chhetri admitted that had India not still been in the qualifiers for the 2026 World Cup, this Asian Cup could have been his last international tournament. India beat Kuwait away and lost to Qatar at home in the road to the 2026 finals. They have never made that far in the qualifiers. While expecting India to beat Australia, Syria or Uzbekistan is unrealistic, the fact remains that all three sides are arguably far superior to the teams that India face next in the qualifiers. The game time they will get here will hence go a long way in preparing themselves for doing something that no Indian team before them have been able to do.

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