In 'what if' situation, lot at stake
PUNE: There isn’t an iota of doubt that any continental football competition in India evokes interest aplenty and that the AFC Women’s Asian Cup 2022, scheduled to kick off on January 20, is no different.
For more reasons than one the sudden surge of Covid Omicron cases keeps the spectre of uncertainty dangling in a “what if?” situation.
Spectators-less games and every co-related match routine beginning Match Day -1, including the prior practice sessions has been struck off the list of mandatories that otherwise would have been a normal routine.
And yes, a ‘negative’ RT-PCR report before every match despite double vaccination for media personnel defines the new normal of sport that until a few years back was a confluence of freewheeling passion.
There is more to the list of ‘nays,’ which simply relates to all involved – players, support staff, technical officials including the odd-job daily personal getting into a bio bubble and no turning back till the final whistle is blown on February 6.
The task is enormous, and the objective is to have a hitch-free championship. And to have it all well pieced together, the continental body (AFC), the LOC – All India Football Federation and a very cooperative Government of Maharashtra are working on the double.
Devoid of every purpose to entertain and celebrate, the biggest loser remains the common fan in the circumstance. To Pune, known as the Oxford of the East, it is the sport-loving community who have always gathered in numbers for any international fixture be it club-level or the National team. In Mumbai, the business capital of the State, it is the go-getter women folk which likewise can be said about suburban Navi Mumbai.
It is an opportunity lost and to think that an event of this stature comes to India after a gap of 43 years makes the heart go out.
Nevertheless, with the tagline ‘Our Goal for All,’ the 2022 edition of the Championship is sure to be a spectacular celebration of the women’s game throughout the continent. Only this time with a challenge. A challenge with no chance for a slip-up, which in the end will lead to the team’s earning dividends.
Among the gains, the teams will look forward to is the fact that the tournament will serve as the final stage of Asian qualification for the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. Five teams stand to qualify directly for the World Cup via the knockout stage (including play-offs for a fifth-place or possibly sixth place), and two more teams will advance to the inter-confederation play-offs.
In India’s perspective, a last-8 berth puts us in the reckoning and closer to a dream. Now, that will be some gain and reason enough to follow the competition.