NEW DELHI: All India Football Federation has set out the Indian national team’s football calendar for the remainder of 2021.
Amidst the impact of the pandemic on sports globally, international football has seen a hold up forcing AIFF to revisit the calendar faced with uncertainties, postponements, and unfortunate call-offs.
AIFF has endeavored to make the most of the lost opportunities of the past 15 months arising due to the pandemic with an effort to work in sync with its international commitments and the importance of the domestic events.
The action begins with Bengaluru FC playing their (pending) AFC Cup qualifier against Club Eagles (Maldives) on August 15. This will be followed by the league stage draw featuring ATK Mohun Bagan from 18-24 August. Fans could be in for a double treat if Sunil Chhetri-led BFC manage to cross the first hurdle. These matches will be brought live from Maldives to Indian homes.
Concurrently, the federation will convene a 15-day camp for its senior men’s team starting August 15 in preparation for the two international games India is likely to play during the FIFA window of Aug 30-September 7. Conversations are ongoing with a few federations and a final confirmation will be made in the coming days.
Plans are also afoot to ensure the smooth integration of the players from BFC and ATK MB players returning from the Maldives to the Indian camp in regard to covid protocols.
By the first week of September, the clubs are expected to commence their pre-season and will see all India international players available. A three-week window, till end of September, will ensure club coaches roll out their pre-season training plans in full gear.
The start of October will see AIFF reconvening the national camp for India’s participation in the (twice postponed) biennial international men’s football event, the SAFF Championship 2021 featuring five member nations. The tournament will be played till October 15, with India playing 4 games in a round robin format and would hope for an appearance in the final.
Immediately after the SAFF championship, India will start its preparation camp for its Group E engagement in AFC U-23 Asian Cup 2022 Qualifiers. While the Indian international players will return to their respective clubs from the SAFF Championship, the U23 players who would be summoned will be joining the preparatory camp.
There is also an additional FIFA window from 24January to 1 February 2022. India will start the third Round of AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers in February 2022, and will play 6 qualifiers till September 2022.
Further, in the event of ATK Mohun Bagan or Bengaluru FC progressing from AFC Cup group stage, they are likely to be in the action as early as September in the inter-zonal semifinal. The inter-zonal finals are scheduled in October with the AFC Cup Final scheduled in early November 2021.
AIFF general secretary Kushal Das stated: “We have made our best efforts in laying out a robust engagement for our senior national team despite the ongoing pandemic situation and the different quarantine rules in different countries. India will play six international matches in the second half of 2021, and a possible seventh if we progress to the SAFF championship final.”
National coach Igor Stimac stated: “I am happy with the way the calendar looks for now. I see great efforts being made by the federation to weave in a suitable duration of the India camp, and allowing clubs to also have availability of their key players for pre-season. What’s more important for me is to know that we are stepping onto the ground in the next 10 days, i.e., August 15, 2021 with the India camp, and simultaneously two clubs getting engaged in AFC Cup fixtures. The concurrent pre-season of clubs will also ensure our players - be it seniors or the under 23 probables - will be in top fitness and game ready.”