Stage is all set for the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Women’s Asian Cup 2022 in Maharashtra with 10 out of the 12 teams reaching India and setting camp at their respective allotted bases.
The Local Organising Committee (LOC), the All India Football Federation (AIFF) and the Maharashtra government have prepared the three venues in Mumbai, Navi Mumbai and Pune for the event and are confident of successfully organising the event as per all the Covid-19 SOPs and protocols set by the AFC.
“All preparations are in place and we are all geared up for organising the AFC Women’s Asian Cup India 2022. We are hundred per cent ready to organise the event and have been implementing all SOPs and protocols set by the AFC,” said AIFF president and LOC chairman Praful Patel during a virtual press conference on Monday.
“It’s a special occasion for us as women’s football is gaining a lot of ground not only in India but Asia also. Young boys and girls are choosing football as their career option and I have had parents coming to me to enquire how they should go about putting their kids into playing football,” he said.
Though the event will be held with the teams in a biosecure bubble and without any spectators, both AIFF president and LOC chairman Praful Patel and Mumbai District Football Association (MDFA) president Aditya Thackeray emphasised that spectators will not be allowed even if the Covid situation improves in the next few days.
“It is part of our commitment to AFC that we will conduct this event in a bio-secure bubble. So there is no question of allowing spectators into the stadium even if things drastically improve during the event. The teams too have confirmed their participation as they will be playing in a bio-bubble,” said Thackeray.
Both Patel and Thackeray see this event as an opportunity to build on the legacy and develop women’s football in India and Maharashtra.
Patel said the AIFF sees the successful conduct of the AFC Women’s Asian Cup India 2022 as a template for the FIFA Women’s U-17 World Cup, which will be held in India in October 2022. The event originally scheduled to be held in 2020 was cancelled and the next edition was given to India.
“At this moment we are hoping that things will become normal in October for the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup India 2022. But in case we have to organize it as per Covid SOPs and protocols, the women’s Asian Cup will be a template for us to follow there,” said Patel who informed that a high-level delegation of FIFA officials will be visiting India during the Women’s Asian Cup to assess preparations for the U-17 World Cup.
Aditya Thackeray said that the Maharashtra government has invested a lot in building infrastructure for football, which will be used to develop football in the state. “The Football Maharashtra Center of Excellence, which is coming up at Kharghar in Navi Mumbai is a big step in this direction. Two turfs are already ready and another one will be ready by March-end. We are consulting international design experts for the international level stadium, clubhouse and a Centre of Excellence. We want to have advanced infrastructure not only in Mumbai or Pune but all districts of Maharashtra,” said Thackeray, who is also the Minister of Tourism in the government of Maharashtra.
Patel said successful conduct of the AFC Women’s Asian Cup will also help in India’s bid for the 2027 AFC Asian Cup (men) for which India will be contending against bids from Iran, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. He said the AIFF will be bidding to host more events both at AFC and FIFA level as it wants to use them to develop infrastructure and improve football in the country.
“The infrastructure developed for the FIFA U-17 Boys World Cup in India is currently utilised by ISL and I-League teams and the same will happen with venues for the AFC Women’s Asian Cup 2022. The same will also be used by local clubs and boys and girls,” he said, adding that the game will develop in this way.
The AFC Women’s Asian Cup is the premier football tournament for women in Asia and will have 12 teams participating in the finals to be held in Mumbai, Navi Mumbai, and Pune from January 20-February 6.
The teams have been divided into three groups of four teams each. The top two teams from each group and the two best third-placed teams will qualify for the knockout stages (quarter-finals).
India have been placed in Group A along with Iran, Chinese Taipei and China. Group B comprises Australia, Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia. Pool C has defending champions Japan (2018 winners), South Korea, Vietnam and Myanmar.
The knockout rounds will be held from January 30 onwards with the final set for February 6.