India U-23 men's football team have never qualified for the U-23 AFC championship since its inception in 2014, will start preparation for the qualifying round matches, under coach Derrick Pereira in Goa from March 2. India, which have qualified for the men's AFC Asian Cup championship four times but failed to qualify for this biennial international age-restricted football championship, organised by the AFC, will be one of the 44 teams that have entered the competition. These teams are divided into two zones -- West Zone (Groups A-F) and East Zone (Groups G-K) with 24 and 20 teams, respectively.
Eleven group winners and four best runners-up qualify for the final tournament. If the final tournament hosts Thailand win their group or are among the four best runners-up, the fifth best runner-up also qualifies for the final tournament.
India is in Group F, along with Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Pakistan. While India is placed at 18, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Pakistan are placed at 12, 21 and 45, respectively, in AFC ranking.
From the outset, it seems India is well placed in the group, but then India have never been able to beat Uzbekistan and also lost its last two matches against Tajikistan. As far as Pakistan is concerned, it will also be a tough match considering the prevalent relations between the two countries.
Qualifying matches will be played from March 22-26. India will play Tajikistan on March 22, host Uzbekistan on March 25 and Pakistan on March 26. Before the start of qualifying matches, India will be playing a friendly with Qatar U23 National side on March 11 in Doha.
In an interview to the AIFF website, Pereira said, "It is an honour to be associated to with the national team. I know most players and have seen them in action. But we need to find the right combination to perform and achieve the desired results.".