NEW DELHI: The Indian football team will play against China for the first time in 21 years, and the first time away from home, in an international friendly in October, continuing its preparation for the prestigious Asian Cup next year.
The All India Football Federation today confirmed the development.
The AFC Asian Cup will be held in the UAE from January 5 to February 1.
The 97th-ranked Indian team will travel to Beijing to play against the 75th ranked China during theOctober 8-16 FIFA window.
Though the date for the friendly will be decided in coming days, AIFF has proposed October 13 as its preferred match day. India and China have faced each other 17 times — all on Indian soil — with the last being 21 years ago in the Nehru Cup in Kochi in 1997.
As per AIFF general secretary Kushal Das, India could also play against Saudi Arabia, another higher ranked team from the continent.
Indian captain Sunil Chhetri has time and again stressed the need to play against stronger and higher-ranked opponents.
The talismanic striker guided the team to a title triumph in a four-nation tournament in Mumbai earlier this year.
It remains to be seen if the Indian players will be taking on a full-strength China team.
Recently, the India U-16 national team visited China for an invitational four-nation tournament, which also included U-16 Thailand and U-16 DPR Korea.
The October friendly assumes huge importance as it will set the pace for India’s preparatory process for the AFC Asian Cup in January.
Terming the occasion as ‘historic’, AIFF general secretary Kushal Das said: “China and India are today being seen as the two fastest emerging football markets, globally.
We are happy to have come to the conclusion of our month long discussion with the Chinese FA, and I thank our marketing partners FSDL for their involvement and cooperation.
“The opportunity presents us with an opportunity not just break the two-decade deadlock, but also provides us a chance to revive the neighbouring rivalry,” he added.
India are yet to win a match against China.
Off the past 17 matches, 12 have gone in favour of China while rest five were drawn.
However, the senior team has been on upsurge over the last couple of years, maintaining an unbeaten run of 12 official matches for a span which extended from June 2016 to November 2017.
National coach Stephen Constantine expressed satisfaction about the tie.
“With an eye on the preparation for the Asian Cup, as a coach I couldn’t have asked for anything better than an opponent like China. I am sure the boys will make the best of the opportunity presented to us and look forward to test ourselves ahead of the AFC competition.”