The ball has well and truly started rolling. Less than a day after India confirmed its entry into the Asian Games football tournament, the draw is out already.
The Indian men's football team has been bunched with China, Bangladesh, and Myanmar in a somewhat easy looking Group A. The women have been clubbed with Thailand and Chinese Taipei in Group B.
The draw was conducted in Hangzhou, the Asian Games host, on Thursday.
The men’s tournament features six groups. The top two teams from each group and four best third-placed teams will proceed to the round of 16.
In the women’s competition, there are five groups. The No. 1 team from each group and the three best second-placed teams will move into the quarterfinals.
India have achieved significant success in men's football in the Asian Games. They won gold in the inaugural edition in 1951 and followed that up with one more gold in 1962.
Since 2002, Asian Games football teams have had only under-23 players, with three players over that age allowed per team.
This time, players who are 24 will also be allowed as the Games were postponed by a year due to increasing Covid cases in China last year.
In the Indian team, inspirational captain Sunil Chhetri, goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu and defender Sandesh Jhingan are expected to be the side’s three players above 24.
The Indian Olympic Association (IOA) had earlier stopped the Indian football teams from going for the Asian Games on the grounds that the teams were not ranked in the top-8 in Asia. The men’s team is No. 18 in the continent, while the women are No. 11.
On Wednesday, Sports Minister Anurag Thakur tweeted, "Good news for Indian football lovers! Our national football teams, both Men’s and Women’s, are set to participate in the upcoming Asian Games.
“The Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, Government of India, has decided to relax the rules to facilitate participation of both the teams, which were not qualifying as per the existing criterion.”
After the initial rejection, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) appealed to the Sports Ministry to allow the men's and women's sides to compete in Hangzhou.
National senior team head coach Igor Stimac reached out to Prime Minister Modi and Thakur on social media, requesting them to allow the teams to go for the Asian Games.
"A humble appeal and sincere request to Honourable Prime Minister Sri Narendra Modi ji and Hon. Sports Minister Anurag Thakur, to kindly allow our football team to participate in the Asian games. We will fight for our nation’s pride and the flag! Jai Hind!" Stimac had tweeted.