New Delhi: The Indian men’s football team has welcomed AFC’s decision to reschedule the Asian qualifying matches for the 2022 FIFA World Cup to next year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, saying that health of the players is paramount.

Last week, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) postponed all the Asian qualifying matches for the 2022 World Cup to 2021 due to the ongoing pandemic, which has infected over two crore people across the globe.

Though out of contention for a place in the next round of World Cup qualifiers, India are still in the reckoning for a spot in the 2023 Asian Cup. They were scheduled to play Qatar at home on October 8 followed by matches against Afghanistan (home) and Bangladesh (away) in November.

In a chat with AIFF TV, goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu said: “I had a feeling about it. With the pandemic, it’s not a very good situation — to have a resumption of international football right now. It is important to have safety in mind.

“I’m raring to get back on the pitch. I can assure it’s the same for the rest of the players too. From a player’s perspective if you don’t get an opportunity to play you get ready for the next one,” Gurpreet added.

The postponement means the Indian team will not see any action this year. India’s last international match was the joint qualifying round match against Oman in Muscat in November last year, when they lost 0-1.

“My first thought after the announcement was that our wait to get back gets longer. But we need to think from a bigger perspective as well. Safety is important. I fully stand by the decision,” midfielder Anirudh Thapa said.

Defender Adil Khan feels that although the postponement is “unfortunate”, it has been taken “keeping in mind the safety of all the players.”

“It’s a bit of a catch-22 situation. We are all sorely missing out on being out there on the pitch, but on the other hand, we also have to take into consideration the safety of everyone involved in organising a match,” said Adil.

Adil’s fellow defender Pritam Kotal also feels that there is a great risk to the players who have to travel to different venues in order to play.

“We all saw what happened with the Bangladesh players and the players of the Indian hockey team. Many of them tested positive,” Kotal said.

“I think when you have this kind of a situation at hands, it is wise to delay international sporting events that can be held at a later stage. Not only do you lose a lot of players for some while because of the virus, but the safety of these players are also in doubt,” he added.

Source: PTI