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India in a race against time to prepare for FIFA World Cup qualifiers

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The Indian football team has little time to prepare for the remainder of their FIFA World Cup 2022 qualifiers campaign after the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) turned down the All Indian Football Federation’s (AIFF) request to postpone their remaining games to be played in Qatar.

The surge in coronavirus cases in India since April has been exponential, with the footballing body struggling to find appropriate venues to host their World Cup qualifying matches. India are scheduled to play Qatar (June 3), Bangladesh (June 7) and Afghanistan (June 15).

With little time left to prepare for those matches, Indian football coach Igor Stimac has reportedly reached out to his players asking them to be ready for the challenge.

“We were asked whether we are fit for the assignment. If a player has family issues with regards to Covid situation, he will be excused,” a national team player told TOI.

An already injury-plagued Indian football squad has been further reduced by national team players testing positive for Covid-19. While Ashutosh Mehta and Asish Rai are both injured, three other national team probables have tested positive and are unlikely to feature in the qualifiers.

“Four members of a senior player’s family have tested positive for Covid-19. They are recovering, but we have to see whether the player is in the right frame of mind to play football,” a source told TOI.

India’s initial plan of practising in Kolkata from the last week of April was cancelled due to the second wave of the pandemic in the country. Though AIFF looked for other practice options in Goa, nothing could materialize meaning that the team is now looking to leave for Doha.

“Our plan was to travel straight to Doha on May 7 and train there. The idea was to minimise air travel and ensure we have enough time to prepare for the crucial games. We have not yet heard from the Qatar FA how soon we can arrive there. We are expecting a solution soon,” another AIFF official told TOI.

Failure to travel to Doha will see the Indian team leaving for Dubai to prepare while most of their opponents seem to be enjoying match rhythm. While the Qatari players are busy with the Emir Cup, some players from Afghanistan have already been playing in Europe’s lower leagues.

It has also been reported that Igor Stimac will announce the probable squad in the next two days.

Featured Image: AFP/ Dibyangshu Sarkar

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