World Cup and Asian Cup qualifying are on the line when India host Qatar on Thursday at 6pm (UK time).
For the second time, AFC World Cup qualifying has been merged with qualification for the Asian Cup, but India will need a miracle to make the next stage of the former.
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Scoreline prediction: India 0-3 Qatar
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India vs Qatar build-up, previous line-ups & injury news:
AFC World Cup qualifying is split into four rounds, consisting of one knockout stage, two group stages (with the second group stage securing World Cup qualification) and a final match for the inter-confederation play-off. But the first two stages also work as qualifying for the 2023 Asian Cup, with the current group stage being the final point before it takes its own path. The winners of the eight groups will qualify for the Asian Cup (and the next stage of World Cup qualifying), with the four best runners-up joining them. Everyone else goes on in the Asian Cup at various stages.
For India, the dream of the World Cup is essentially over, as they will need to be perfect in their final three games to even stand a chance. India are currently fourth in Group E, nine points behind second-placed Oman, still awaiting their first win. More achievable, however, is a third-placed finish which would guarantee them a place in the third round of Asian Cup qualifying, avoiding a potential play-off round.
Qatar, of course, have already qualified for the World Cup as hosts so they are only playing for Asian Cup qualification. They do lead Group E, unbeaten after six games winning five and only dropping points with a draw against India, and are four points clear of second-placed Oman. Given their record, even if Qatar were to lose top spot in the group, they would still be likely to automatically qualify for the Asian Cup and avoid the qualifying round, but they will want to make certain of their place.
If Qatar do top Group E, their World Cup qualifying spot would pass down to the fifth-best second-placed team.
- India (vs United Arab Emirates): Sandhu; Kotal, Shereef, S Singh, Mishra; Khan; Apuia, Thapa, Chhangte; Colaco, Singh.
- Qatar (vs Ireland): Al-Sheeb; Miguel, Al-Rawi, Khoukhi, Salman, Hassan; Hatem, Boudiaf; Al-Haydos; Ali, Muntari.
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Player to watch: Almoez Ali (Qatar)
Only four teams in World Cup/Asian Cup qualifying have scored more goals than Qatar’s 16 so far, and one of those is Japan who have been blowing away teams in their group, perfect after six games, scoring 37 and conceded none.
Understandably, Japan’s Takumi Minamino and Yuya Osako lead the top scorer standings on eight goals each but just two behind them is Qatar’s main man Almoez Ali. The Al-Hudail striker has scored six goals in qualifying so far, including two in their most recent match (a 5-0 win over Bangladesh towards the end of 2020).
Of the current Qatar squad, only Hassan Al-Haydos has managed more goals (30) than Ali, but the 30-year-old midfielder is the nation’s most-capped player with 138 appearances compared to Ali’s 29. Ali will be hoping to overtake Al-Haydos soon and, at the age of 24, may even have Mubarak Mustafa’s record of 41 in his sights. A return against India would certainly put him on his way.
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