Indian men's and women's football teams are set to take part in the 2023 Asian Games in Hangzhou, China, in September after the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports relaxed their entry criteria.

Earlier, the Indian sports ministry mandated that only teams which had been in the top eight in Asia would be eligible to represent the nation in Hangzhou. This decision from the ministry led to mass appeal from the Indian football fraternity, which includes several prominent figures of the country.

People turned up in numbers and took to their social media handles to make a humble request to the ministry, and finally, on July 16, the Ministry decided to grant the relaxation, keeping in mind the latest performances of the team.

Indian national team defender Sandesh Jhingan expressed his happiness after the ministry gave the green light to allow the football teams to represent the country in Asia's biggest sporting event.

“I'm really happy and felt proud and happy to see the whole country coming together for football, without something. (It was) really appealing to me or gave me a lot of pride and happiness,” Jhingan said in an interaction with RevSportz.

The centre-back was pleased to see the unity of the fans from the football fraternity and it was really heartwarming to see how everyone came together to make it happen.

“The gaffer, influencers, and YouTubers made their efforts to make this happen, as well as Kalyan Sir, Shaji Sir, and everyone. So it was really good to see how everyone came together,” he said.

“But this is just the first step, and now we have our work ahead of us. I'm pretty confident, as I have always been, in our team throughout all the stages, both boys and girls, men and women. So yeah, I'm just looking forward to the tournament now, to be honest,” Jhingan added.

Football at the Asian Games allows only U-23 teams, with each team further allowed to include three players above the age limit. 

Jhingan, who has always been known for leading the side, be it on or off the pitch, shares how much it means to him and his teammates to don the blue jersey and represent the country.

“Not just for the Asian Games, but since you mentioned the blue jersey, I feel it's the greatest honour for me as a footballer, regardless of whether it's the Asian Games or a friendly match. Every time (I step) onto the pitch, everyone around me shares the same thought – which is to win,” he said.

“Even if it takes your blood or you're going to take many broken bones, it doesn't matter; you have to get the win and make your country proud. When you compete in prestigious tournaments like the Asian Games, the stage becomes much bigger, and having the opportunity to shine brightly is beautiful for anyone,” the defender further stated.

The 19th edition of the Asian Games was originally scheduled to be held in 2022, but it was postponed due to the Covid-19 outbreak in and around the host city of Hangzhou, China. As a result of the postponement, the age limit for this edition of the Asian Games has been relaxed to U-24.

India have been drawn alongside host China, Bangladesh, and Myanmar in Group A. Despite the relaxed age limit, the 30-year-old player believes it will be beneficial for India to achieve positive results at the event since many U-24 players are already playing in the senior national team.

“Talking about the Asian Games, I think one of the biggest advantages or plus points is that most of our senior national team players fall within the same age bracket. So it’s not that they’re too young and have matured well as players,” he opined.

“Every player who performs well in the 25-26 (age range) should thank those who were with them when they were 10-12 years old. All of them have played big games so they have that maturity in them. As for me, I am still uncertain if I will be there, but I'll always be ready to support them and make their job easier,” he added.

The draw ceremony of the FIFA World Cup 2026 Asian Qualifiers Round Two took place on Thursday, and the Blue Tigers have been drawn into Group A with Qatar and Kuwait. The winner of the match between Afghanistan and Mongolia will also join them in the same group.

Jhingan reminisces about the team's performance in the previous World Cup qualifiers. He states that even during those qualifiers, he knew the potential of the squad, and he believes that the team has what it takes to compete at the highest level.

“We had a really good start in the last qualifiers. In the first game, I will always have that ... I would say that game against Oman we should've won it. Then we had a great draw against Qatar away and then we had Bangladesh and Afghanistan next, but unfortunately, Covid-19 happened, and things which were not in our control happened. (I am) not giving any excuses but we knew the potential of the squad,” he said.

“We proved in the last three-four years how good we can be especially now we can see the fruits of it,” Jhingan signed off.

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