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Playing in Kolkata a ‘huge inspiration’, feel Blue Tigers

Head coach Igor Štimac and the Indian national team in training. (Photo courtesy: AIFF Media)
Head coach Igor Štimac and the Indian national team in training. (Photo courtesy: AIFF Media)

The announcement that the third and final round qualifiers of the AFC Asian Cup China 2023 are to be hosted by the All India Football Federation in Kolkata, has been profusely welcomed by the Blue Tigers, and the Head Coach, all of whom unanimously declared that playing at home is an “extra bonus”.

Head Coach Igor Coach Stimac stated, “We are very happy with the confidence the Asian Football Confederation has bestowed on us to host our group league matches in Kolkata for the 3rd round of qualifications of the AFC Asian Cup China 2023. We need to prepare in the best possible fashion, and pray that the fans get an opportunity to be with us at the stadium, and cheer us to victory.”

The qualifiers are slated to be held in Kolkata on June 8, 11, and 14, later this year. The 6 group winners and the best 5 second-placed teams earn a ticket to the Asian Cup in China, which is slated to kick-off next year on June 16, 2023. The draw for the final leg of the qualifiers is scheduled for February 24 at IST 12.30 pm.

Current AIFF Player of the Year, and central defender Sandesh Jhingan labelled it as “great news”.

“It’s a huge bonus to get to host the final round of the qualifiers in India. Thanks to the AFC for believing in us, and thanks to the AIFF for making this happen. Playing such important games in your own backyard is always an added advantage, and that makes me happy,” Sandesh averred.

Sandesh stays optimistic that the fans will get a chance to watch from the stands. “I hope that the fans get to throng the stadium, and root for us. We need to go on to the pitch with not just support from the fans, but the entire country. The fans in Kolkata are extremely passionate, and it will be an extra motivation for the players,” he added. “We will do everything possible in our might to get the job done to provide happiness and pride to the fans. We are looking forward to it.”

In preparation for the qualifiers in June, the Blue Tigers are playing two International Friendlies in March against Bahrain and Belarus on March 23, and 26, respectively.

Goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu echoed the same feelings, mentioning it’s an “advantage” to play at home.

“I am extremely happy that we are to play the qualifiers in Kolkata. We are all aware that it’s the home of Indian Football, and it has been a so-called home ground for so many reasons. I think it will give us immense inspiration playing on our home soil. I just can’t wait to get with the team, and start preparing. I pray that everyone stays free of injuries.”

Gurpreet’s compatriot Amrinder Singh complemented his teammates, saying that acquiring the right to host the qualifiers in Kolkata has been an “exemplary” job.

“It will be quite an achievement for India to qualify for the AFC Asian Cup in consecutive editions as it hasn’t ever happened before. In that sense, winning the bid, and organising it in Kolkata is so encouraging. As there were other nations who had bid to host the qualifiers, I want to express my gratitude to the Federation for making it possible for us,” Amrinder, who is currently guarding the ATKMB citadel in the Hero ISL, quipped. “Playing at home is always an added advantage. We need to make the most of it.”

(AIFF Media)