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What must India do to qualify for the 2023 Asian Cup?

Sunil Chhetri celebrates after scoring a goal against Afghanistan. AFC

UPDATE: India have qualified for the 2023 Asian Cup

How can Sunil Chhetri and Co ensure qualification for the 2023 Asian Cup? Having appeared in the 2019 edition, India are looking to make it to back-to-back Asian Cup appearances for the first time ever.

If Philippines lose or draw against Palestine (10 AM IST, June 14), nothing really: just show up for their match against Hong Kong on Tuesday at 8.30 PM and India are through to the Asian Cup proper.

Huh? How does that work?

The 2023 Asian Cup will have 24 teams. 13 have already qualified. That leaves 11 spots.

For those 11 spots, 24 teams have been divided into six groups of four each. The group winners all go through. As do the five best runners-up.

India are currently second in group D with six points (behind Hong Kong only on goal difference). If Philippines, second in Group B, lose (or draw) their match, they will have four (or five) points, meaning India cannot be the worst of the second-placed teams. Palestine lead Group B by two points from the Philippines, so it should be a close-run thing.

We picked Philippines vs Palestine because it's the first of the deciding matches on June 14. As it stands, Malaysia and Indonesia (second in Groups E and A, with three points each) are both below India as well, and a loss or a draw for either of them would serve the same purpose for India. Malaysia play bottom side Bangladesh at 6.30 PM, while Indonesia take on Nepal at 12. 45 AM. Oh, and Kuwait, who are level on points with Indonesia, take on table toppers Jordan at 9.45 PM.

All these sides - Philippines, Malaysia, Kuwait/Indonesia have an inferior Goal Difference to India as well.

What if India win or draw?

India are then through, regardless of what happens elsewhere

So that last-minute winner against Afghanistan was big?

Massive. Sahal Abdul Samad's late magic means Indian football fans, and journalists, don't really need to go searching for a calculator and someone who can do maths.

What's at stake then?

Apart from putting any potential mathematical uncertainty to bed, the match is also one for pride. India would not want to lose this one in front of their home crowd while Hong Kong will want to prove they really are the best team in this group.

Who do we watch out for?

Chhetri, 83* of course. (*number of international goals, and counting). Ashique Kuruniyan excelled in the forward role Igor Stimac loves him in, while Sahal Abdul Samd would have confidence coursing through him. And a confident Sahal is always must-see-television.

Hong Kong's Matt Orr played a bit-part role in his club's Kitchee's amazing Asian Champions League run, but he's front and center for this national team - he has two goals in two games in Group D. The centre-forward will be the toughest test yet for India's new centre-back pairing of Sandhesh Jhingan and Anwar Ali.

What's the Indian camp saying?

Sunil Chhetri: "Hong Kong are a good side, but we are at home, and will be backing ourselves. All of the fans will be there too."

Igor Stimac: "We were Blue Tigers in the match against Afghanistan, and that's what they need to be on the pitch. That's our intent, keeping the pride intact."