A tale of determination and grit: India's remarkable draw against Qatar
India's goalless draw against Qatar away from home in 2019 was one of their best results in recent times and was celebrated across the nation.
In 2019, India embarked on a challenging mission to Qatar for their second game in the FIFA World Cup 2022 qualifiers, facing a significant hurdle. Following a disheartening defeat to Oman at home in the opening qualifier, where they conceded despite initially leading, securing a positive outcome became imperative for the Blue Tigers at Doha's Jassim bin Hamad Stadium.
The challenge was more substantial than it appeared. The Blue Tigers were set to confront the recently crowned AFC Asian Cup champions on their own turf. Compounding the difficulty, India were without two key players, captain Sunil Chhetri and Ashique Kuruniyan.
However, when the final whistle blew, a myriad of emotions ensued - smiles, hugs, tears. India had achieved the seemingly improbable feat of holding Qatar to a goalless draw, showcasing resilience in their defensive efforts. Stimac's team not only secured a crucial point away from home but also breathed new life into their qualifying campaign.
Going back to that game, there was no denying that Qatar entered as the clear favourites against India. With a significant 41-place difference in the FIFA Rankings and the added advantage of playing on their home turf, Qatar was expected to secure a win.
From the onset, Qatar exhibited dominance, starting the game strongly and maintaining control throughout. They boasted an impressive 68 percent possession and unleashed a barrage of 27 shots. However, breaking down the Indian defence proved to be a formidable challenge for the hosts.
Stimac's team, despite being 41 places below their opponents in the FIFA Rankings, too managed to create a couple of chances on the counter-attack. Unfortunately, the finishing touch eluded them on those occasions. Yet, what stood out was their collective defending, working as a cohesive unit to weather the relentless waves of attacks from the opposition.
A standout performer for India in that memorable match was Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, who showcased exceptional goalkeeping skills with an impressive tally of 11 saves. His remarkable contribution played a pivotal role in the team's achievement. The result was characterised by unwavering grit and relentless determination. The result was heralded as one of India's best in recent times, celebrated across the nation.
Almost four years after that remarkable result, India are poised to confront Qatar, this time on their home turf. Little has changed for the Blue Tigers, with Stimac continuing to lead the team, and the core of the Indian squad remaining consistent from the previous World Cup qualifying campaign.
Facing Qatar at home presents a formidable challenge, but India will draw confidence from their recent triumph against Kuwait away from home. Given their commendable performances against strong opponents in recent encounters, India will be keen demonstrate their capability to stand toe to toe with any opponent.
"We do not have high expectations, but we know we have a chance, and we have to grab that with both hands," said Stimac ahead of the game.
As they step onto the Kalinga Stadium on Tuesday, India will enter the match with the belief that anything would be within their reach. Drawing inspiration from that memorable September night in 2019, they will strive to keep their World Cup dream alive.