India's match vs Chinese Taipei in the AFC Women's Asian Cup has been cancelled, the AFC announced on Sunday.
UPDATE - AFC have confirmed India have withdrawn from the competition. More details here.
The events surrounding the cancellation were shrouded in mystery. Speculation of a COVID-19 outbreak had been growing from a couple of hours before the scheduled start of the match but the first official disclosure of any problem came with the announcement of the match being cancelled at 7.38 PM, 8 minutes after the kickoff time. More than two hours after that announcement, there was no clarity on the team's continued participation in the tournament. However, the group table on the official website had India at 0 matches and Iran, too, had no record of their match against India
AIFF President Praful Patel, in a statement said, "The team is heartbroken, and I request all to respect their feelings and sentiments. I am proud of the great promise the team showed in their first match, and am confident that they will prove their mettle in the near future."
Aditi Chauhan, India's starting goalkeeper, was the first (and as yet only) player to make a public comment, when she tweeted:
Absolutely devastated �� https://t.co/dwv6majm41
- Aditi Chauhan GK ���� (@aditi03chauhan) January 23, 2022
More details below:
A COVID-19 outbreak amongst the hosts meant they couldn't field 13 players in their matchday squad - the minimum required for a game to go ahead as per AFC rules.
It is likely, as per the provisions of the AFC's special rulebook for competitions held during the pandemic, that India are out of the tournament. If that's the case, India are out of the running for the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup.
The AFC quoted Article 4.1 of the 'Special Rules Applicable to AFC Competitions during the COVID-19 pandemic' (Special Rules)' which states the following -- "If a Participating Team/Participating Club has less than thirteen (13) Participating Players (including one  goalkeeper) available for a Match for any reason (whether or not relating to COVID-19), the relevant Participating Team/Participating Club shall not be able to participate in the Match. Such Participating Team/Participating Club shall be held responsible for the Match not taking place and shall be considered to have withdrawn from the relevant Competition."
However, there is an additional bit that means the withdrawal is not 100% confirmed.
"In exceptional circumstances and provided that any rescheduling will not affect the Match Schedule determined by the AFC General Secretariat, the AFC Competitions Committee (or any sub-committee carrying out duties on its behalf) may grant an exception to the foregoing and allow the relevant Match to be rescheduled."
If rescheduled, when can India play Chinese Taipei?
It's a very big if, especially considering the tight schedule the AFC have drawn up for the competition. India's next match would have been with China on January 26, with Chinese Taipei playing Iran simultaneously.
Any rescheduling, therefore, would have to happen between Jan 27 and Jan 29 as the quarterfinals start on Jan 30. And considering a break is required before the qualified team plays the quarter, it's unlikely Chinese Taipei would be convinced to agree to a rescheduling.
Were there any positive cases in the tournament earlier?
Earlier, two members of the Indian squad had missed the goalless draw against Iran after testing positive for COVID-19. They were then placed in isolation at a designated medical facility.
Japan's star forward Mana Iwabuchi also tested positive after arriving in India. The Japan Times reported that she is asymptomatic and has not been in close contact with other members of the team because she travelled separately for the event.