Ahmedabad: India may be the defending champions but there are no clear favourites in the four-nation Intercontinental Cup that kicks off in Ahmedabad on Sunday.
India will kick off the tournament against Tajikistan and the hosts will be aiming for a winning start as new head Igor Stimac continues to mould the squad ahead of the Asian Qualifiers for the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar and AFC Asian Cup China 2023.
DPR Korea and Syria complete the cast with all four teams using the Intercontinental Cup to finalise preparations for the Asian Qualifiers, with the groups set to be unveiled on July 17.
After a third-place finish in the Thailand King’s Cup in May, Stimac will be hoping to see more progress from his team in the Intercontinental Cup.
The Croatian replaced Stephen Constantine as head coach and despite relying on established players in the King’s Cup, Stimac also gave young players a chance and this is an approach that is expected to continue in the Intercontinental Cup.
Tajikistan, however, will be out to spoil India’s party on the opening night as Usman Tashev’s squad, which includes the likes of highly-experienced defender Akhtam Nazarov of Tajik League champions FC Istiklol and Malaysia Super League side PKNP FC player Siyovush Asrorov, look for a morale booster ahead of the Asian Qualifiers.
DPR Korea will also be on a mission to get into shape for the Asian Qualifiers and will be a threat to the ambitions of the other teams in the Intercontinental Cup.
The core of the squad comes from 4.25 SC, who have been enjoying yet another successful season in the AFC Cup and Yun Jong-su’s side will surely provide Syria a stern test when they square off on Monday.
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At 83, Syria are the highest ranked team in the tournament but will be wary of the threat posed by their challengers.
They suffered a 5-0 defeat against Islamic Republic of Iran in a recent friendly but with captain Firas Al Khatib leading their charge, the West Asians will be confident of their chances.
The top two teams at the end of the round robin competition will progress to the final on July 19.
Photos: All India Football Federation