India's AFC Women's Asian Cup 2022, Group A match against Chinese Taipei on Sunday was called off minutes before kickoff after as many as 12 players tested positive for COVID-19. The match in Navi Mumbai was scheduled to kick off at 7:30 PM IST. (More Football News)
India were already dealing with injury issues before the match and needed a result against Chinese Taipei to keep their quarter-final qualification hopes alive. In their opener, India were held to a goalless draw by debutants Iran.
And India are next scheduled to play China in their final group match on Wednesday. But India are now "considered to have withdrawn" from the tournament as per Article 4.1 of the 'Special Rules Applicable to AFC Competitions during the COVID-19 pandemic' (Special Rules)."
With the knock-outs starting January 30, rearranging India vs China match is almost impossible.
"Following several positive cases of COVID-19, India failed to name the required minimum of 13 players for the Group A match against Chinese Taipei," the AFC said in a statement.
This was the Indian football team’s first appearance at the AFC Women’s Asian Cup since 2003. They have finished runners-up twice - in 1979 and 1983 - and also finished third in 1981.
The organisers, however, said that the tournament "will continue to be played as scheduled with the Group winners, runners-up and the two best third-placed teams qualifying to the Quarter-finals."
"The matter will now be referred to the relevant AFC Committee(s) in accordance with the applicable regulations.
"The AFC has maintained an open line of communication with the teams and participating Member Associations throughout the competition to deal with all their concerns and enquiries in a timely manner."
A senior football official said the time, energy and money spent on hosting the tournament has now gone waste. "India were in no position to host the tournament in Mumbai where COVID cases were rampant. But AIFF president Praful Patel went ahead with the tournament, convinced the Maharashtra government and landed the team in trouble," he said.
Patel is a FIFA Council member. He was elected in 2029. The AFC Women's Asia Cup 2022 was awarded to India at a time when the pandemic was wreaking havoc. "Patel wanted to impress the AFC and FIFA with his prowess as a tournament organiser. But the experiment has badly failed and hurt Indian football. It was suicidal to host the tournament in Mumbai."
Patel's term as AIFF president is technically over. Sources say he has been holding on to this position to stay in FIFA and AFC. "At a time when the ISL and I-League has cancelled matches due to coronavirus, this AFC Women's Asia Cup 2022 mess was waiting to happen. Let's see if the other teams continue to stay on and play," the official added.
The rules state that any team that withdraws after the competition has started will have all their matches cancelled and considered null and void. Any points or goals earned in matches will not count towards determining the final rankings in the group.
All the semifinalists will directly qualify for the 2023 FIFA World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. Two more teams from the remaining four quarterfinalists will also get direct berths to the World Cup if Australia make it to the semifinals of this tournament, which is highly probable.
“The team is heartbroken, and I request all to respect their feelings and sentiments. I am proud of the great promise the team showed in their first match, and am confident that they will prove their mettle in the near future,” Patel said.
“This is not the end of the world. The promise on display in the first match against IR Iran was there for all to see, and am confident they will bounce back from this temporary setback.”
“Unfortunately, this happened to us despite the best measures put in place, and it is sheer bad luck that it happened to us. Let there be no fingers pointed at any. We need to understand this is a pandemic situation, and no bubble is fool proof around the world,” Patel added.