Indian football in 2023: AIFF calendar promises much, but can it execute?

Indian football faces an action-packed 2023. Nikku/Xinhua via Getty Images

The All India Football Federation (AIFF) released its calendar for Indian football on Thursday and there are quite a few interesting additions to it. The Super Cup, which pits the best Indian Super League (ISL) clubs against their I-League counterparts, makes a comeback and so does the Women's Gold Cup, which is the only international tournament for women organised by the AIFF.

The AIFF's calendar for 2023 comes a few days after it unveiled a grand long-term plan titled 'Vision 2047, The Indian football strategic roadmap'. In keeping with the aims of the roadmap, the new calendar lays plenty of emphasis on youth football with the age-group leagues stretching for as long as five months. However, the Indian Women's League (IWL), the country's premier women's football league, remains a 45-day affair.

Here are five takeaways from Indian football's 2023 calendar:

More gametime for women but IWL remains a 45-day League

The Indian women's football team has plenty of gametime in 2023: they take on Jordan [exposure tour + friendlies] and Uzbekistan in March, play the first round of Olympic qualifiers in early April (against Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan), the Gold Cup at home from July 14-22, and then travel to China for the Asian Games in September.

Following this, they will re-group in Goa and play the second round of Olympic qualifiers, should they make it through. Their last assignment for 2023 will be the international window in November, but there are no matches scheduled for that period yet.

However, the Indian Women's League - the country's top-tier women's football league which has now been expanded to 18 teams - will yet again be limited to 45 days. Women's club football takes a bit of a backseat in 2023, although India may have representatives in the newly-launched AFC Women's Champions League. Meanwhile, the national team has plenty to play for - an improvement from their almost empty calendar in 2022.

Busy year for U-17s

The men's U-17 team, which will play the AFC U-17 Asian Cup in Thailand in May this year, has plenty of match practice before the continental event. The squad is currently camping in Goa and will play the UAE U-17 team on January 16 in Dubai, followed by two friendlies against Uzbekistan on January 22 and 24 in Goa.

They will then embark on a 10-day exposure tour to Spain in mid-February before regrouping in Goa. The boys will then travel to Croatia for an exposure tour, with friendly matches in March, before a 25-day exposure tour to Spain. As per the calendar, the team will directly head to Thailand for the AFC Asian Cup.

Sure, their travel could have been planned better -- they go to Spain in February, only to return a month later -- but the exposure will do them a world of good.

The women's U-17 team also has a packed year, with the highlights being the SAFF U-17 Women's Championship in Bangladesh in March and round one of the AFC U-17 Asian Cup qualifiers in April.

Super Cup makes a comeback

The AIFF's Super Cup, which was launched in 2018 as a successor to the Federation Cup, is back on the Indian football calendar after a three-year hiatus. The top-six teams from the ISL and the I-League earn a direct spot, while the bottom-placed teams go through qualifiers for the remaining four spots. Both editions have so far been held in Bhubaneswar, Odisha.

The AIFF has shortlisted the window from April 8 to May 10 for the Super Cup. The timing could pose a challenge because clubs may find it hard to hold on to their foreigners and top Indian players, as was the case in the previous editions. However, with clubs also in the mix for AFC competitions, retaining their foreign contingent might be easier. The Super Cup is slated to begin a fortnight after the ISL and I-League end, and the Indian football team is also reportedly going to play the WAFF (West Asian Football Federation) Championship towards the end of March.

A renewed focus on youth football

There's age-group football being played all through 2023. Away from the U-17s, the men's U-16 sub-junior National Football Championship begins in April and the second round of the AFC U-20 Women's Asian Cup is in June. Come July the men's U-13, U-15, U-17 and U-19 Youth Leagues' zonal phases will get underway, while the women's U-20 team plays the COTIF tournament (Torneo Internacional de Futbol Sub-20 de L'Alcudia). And there's also the SAFF U-19 Boys' Championship.

The Women's U-17 Khelo India Girls League kicks off in August and goes on for five months, alongside the men's age-group Youth Leagues and the SAFF U-16 Boys' Championship [September]. There's plenty of football on offer for India's youth, with regular domestic football also coupled with international and invitational tournaments - a stated aim of AIFF's roadmap.

Intercontinental Cup in June

Once they finish their WAFF Championship campaign [their participation is not confirmed yet], the Indian men's football team will be in action in the Intercontinental Cup in June. The four-nation tournament is slated for June 8-18. The men's team will then have a camp in August ahead of the Asian Games, where the U-23 team will participate. That will be the last major assignment for the men's team as the Leagues (ISL, I-League) will begin in mid-October. However, the dates for the 2023 AFC Asian Cup are yet to be confirmed, with reports of host Qatar opting for an early-2024 tournament.

Key dates for Indian football in 2023

  • February 3-9: SAFF U-20 Women's Championship

  • March 4-12: AFC U-20 Women's Asian Cup (Q) R1

  • March 20-29: SAFF U-17 Women's Championship

  • April 3-11: Women's Olympic Qualifiers R1

  • April 15-May 31: Indian Women's League

  • April 8-May 10: Super Cup

  • June 1-11: AFC U-20 Women's Asian Cup (Q) R2

  • June 8-18: Intercontinental Cup

  • June 20-July 2: Men's U-23 SAFF Championship

  • July 14-22: Women's Gold Cup

  • July 7-17: SAFF U-19 Boys Championship

  • July 26- August 6: U-20 Women's COTIF tournament

  • September 1-11: SAFF U-16 Boys Championship

  • September 2-10: AFC U-23 Asian Cup Qualifiers

  • September 14-22: AFC U-20 Women's Asian Cup (Q) R2

  • September 21-October 8: Asian Games

  • October 16 onwards: Men's League football [ISL and I-League]

  • October 23-31: Women's Olympic Qualifiers R2