India likely to host AFC Challenge Cup in March

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New Delhi, Dec 19 (UNI) India has submitted its formal bid to host 2008 AFC Challenge Cup in March next year.

AIFF General Secretary Alberto Colaco said an AFC delegation will visit the country to inspect the venues in the last week of next month before giving final approval.

''An AFC Committee will inspect the venues in January last week and they (AFC) will take a final decision after that,'' Colaco told UNI today.

He refused to disclose whether India was the only bidder to host the tournament and which are the potential Indian cities to host the March 1-16 tournament.

If India wins the right to host the tournament to be played among AFC's 20 lower-ranked countries from March 1 to 16, it will be a huge boost to the game in the country after the success of Nehru Cup in August.

The winner of the tournament (and winner of next edition in 2010) will directly qualify for 2011 AFC Asian Cup in Qatar without playing the qualifying round.

The tournament was first allotted to Chinese Taipei but AFC later offered it to Thailand after the former failed to meet AFC requirements.

Thailand has also apparently turned down the offer at the last minute and India has now officially bidded to host the tournament at the two-day AFC Executive Committee meeting which concluded in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.

AIFF President Priyaranjan Dasmunsi, who is also AFC Executive Committee member, attended the meeting. He and AIFF General Secretary Alberto Colaco met AFC officials to make the formal bid for hosting AFC Challenge Cup.

Even if India does not host the tournament, it will directly qualify for the main competition without playing the qualification round as it has been seeded third in the seedings and revised qualification format announced in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.

The seedings for the qualification format of the tournament are based on the results of the AFC Challenge Cup 2006. The draw for the qualifiers will be announced later.

The 2008 tournament will have 20 lower ranked teams and four teams -- North Korea, Turkemenistan, Myanmar and India -- will directly qualify for the tournament proper.

Sixteen other teams will be divided into four groups and the topper of each group will join the four teams directly qualified to play an eight-team main round.

India had sent an Under-20 side in the last edition in Bangladesh in April 2006 and lost to Nepal in the quarter-finals. Tajikistan won the tournament beating Sri Lanka 4-0 in the final.

Meanwhile, AFC President Mohamed bin Hammam has re-iterated the huge importance of Indian subcontinent as a key focus for AFC and crucial to the development of football in Asia.

Discussions between AFC chief and visiting AIFF delegation focused on Vision Asia and the Vision India project, and how other stakeholders from outside Asia involved in Indian football development can contribute towards the future success of football in India.

Mr Dasmunsi assured Mr Hammam that dedicated human resource shall be appointed to Vision India to drive the project forward.

AFC Challenge Cup seedings: 1. DPR Korea; 2. Turkmenistan 3; India 4; Myanmmar; 5. Tajikistan; 6; Sri Lanka; 7. Nepal; 8. Kyrgyzstan 9. Palestine; 10. Chinese Taipei; 11. Bangladesh; 12. Brunei; 13. Pakistan; 14. Cambodia; 15. Philippines; 16. Afghanistan; 17. Bhutan; 18. Macau; 19. Guam; 20. Laos UNI PDS AB ND1732

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