Qatar result culmination of Stimac's positive influence: Indian players

Indian national football team players are united in their opinion that the team's hard-fought draw against reigning AFC Asian Cup champions, Qatar, a team placed 41 places above them in the latest FIFA Rankings, is a culmination of the hard work and passion put in by new head coach Igor Stimac over the last few months.

Stimac took over the reins of the team back in May and has been hard at work trying to shape the Blue Tigers into a formidable unit on the global stage. The road, however, hasn't been smooth for the Croat. Despite the improvement of the way the team plays on the pitch being quite visible, the final result has eluded the team for a majority of the ties. But everything fell into place on Tuesday as the Blue Tigers put in an inspired display to hold the mighty Maroons to a goalless draw at Doha in their FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and AFC Asian Cup China 2023 joint qualifiers round 2 match-up. To further stress the magnitude of the result, this was the first time Qatar have been denied a victory or a goal by an Asian team in 2019. Some of their notable scalps this year include Japan, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and UAE. In fact, Qatar’s only three losses in 2019 were narrow defeats against South American giants Brazil, Argentina and Colombia on foreign soil.

Sharing his thoughts about the historic result, AIFF Men’s Emerging Footballer of the Year 2018-19 Sahal Abdul Samad, who was impressive at the middle of the park for the Blue Tigers during the match, said, "This is quite unbelievable. All the boys are really happy for the coach (Stimac). He has brought in a lot of changes to our game. We understand we have to do more, and we will surely do more. We defended well in the first half. That was important as we were facing the best team in Asia. At the interval, the coach told us to come out and attack, and enjoy our football. That motivated us further. We played it around, and stretched them while maintaining our shape all throughout."

Mandar Rao Dessai, who was one of Stimac's surprise picks for the starting XI against Qatar, echoed his young colleague's sentiments and credited the gaffer for the memorable night at Doha. "The coach did a lot of research on the opponents and gave us a lot of short videos to watch, and prepare. We watched them perhaps a million times. At every step, he was there to guide us," he said.

Illustrating the 52-year-old's motivational quality and its impact on the team, the FC Goa man added, "After the Oman result, it was not easy to play against Qatar. However, coach motivated us all the time. He brought in a lot of positivity which was so crucial as everyone was low on morale. That’s what good coaches are capable of – lifting up the spirits with their belief, and confidence."

Stimac's reign has been particularly productive for Adil Khan as it saw the 31-year-old not only mark his return to the national team after seven years but also establish himself as an integral player in the team. Adil, who had a sensational game against Qatar partnering Sandesh Jhingan at centre back, added to the popular opinion and remarked, "Playing a team as strong as Qatar, who have won all their matches against Asian sides in 2019, and not conceding a goal is special. The credit for the result goes to the entire team. Stimac is building a good team. We are making good progress under him. I hope more and more fans start believing in him after this performance."

"I can't control my emotions. I am getting goosebumps even thinking of the result. The self-belief in the team defines everything. I was in the national team some seven years back, but it is a different set-up now," added an emotional Adil.

Anirudh Thapa is another young midfielder who has been making waves under Stimac and recalling the 'memorable result', Thapa said, "Qatar are an extraordinary side and this was a qualifier match as well which makes the result even sweeter for us. I'm glad that we could come here to their home and return with points. The coach has changed everything – things we do on and off the pitch. We are all so happy for him. I am happy we were able to make him proud with our performance. He guided, and helped us to achieve this."

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