FIFA World Cup Qualifiers: Sunil Chhetri-led India team’s preparations ahead of the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers next month have taken a hit amid the current COVID-19 crisis in the country. With the second wave raging and lockdown restrictions in many states, the AIFF had asked the AFC to postpone the remaining qualifiers against Qatar, Afghanistan and Bangladesh scheduled in June but the continental body turned it down. Now, the AIFF is looking at alternative venues to begin preparations under head coach Igor Stimac with Dubai and Doha emerging as options.
The preparatory camp under coach Igor Stimac was set to begin from the first week of April in Kolkata but elections in West Bengal and rising COVID-19 cases forced the AIFF to change its plans. While the governing body also explored Goa and other places as possible destinations, packed hospitals and fears of COVID-19 spread changed the plans.
FIFA World Cup Qualifiers: As India will face Qatar on June 3 followed by Bangladesh on June 7 and Afghanistan on June 15 in Doha, preparing in either Doha or Dubai (UAE) was the other alternatives. But the AIFF is yet to hear from Qatar Football Association.
“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,” an AIFF official told TOI.
The difficulties in arranging the national camp forced the AIFF to approach the AFC to postpone the games. But the AFC seemed unperturbed, turning down the request saying rescheduling will not be possible. If the team cannot make it to Doha early, they will begin preparations with a camp in the UAE.
As per TOI, Igor Stimac contacted players on Tuesday, asking them to prepare for the difficulties ahead. “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 said.
FIFA World Cup Qualifiers: Three national team players test positive
Furthermore, the COVID-19 crisis has also crept into the Sunil Chhetri-led India team ahead of the qualifiers. While Ashutosh Mehta and Asish Rai are still recovering from injury and are unlikely for the qualifiers, three other players have tested positive for COVID-19. Furthermore, another player’s family has tested positive, outing them in doubt for the upcoming matches.
“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,” TOI quoted a source.
Furthermore, Indian players will also face the problem of lacking competitive matches. Other than FC Goa’s AFC Champions League matches and Bengaluru FC’s single AFC Cup qualifier, Sunil Chhetri & Co have been without competitive matches since the ISL concluded on March 13.
As for other teams, Qatar is playing Emir Cup while many Afghanistan players are also featuring in the lower divisions in Europe and Bangladesh have also resumed their national league. Oman is currently camping in Dubai.