Anirudh Thapa recalls how India shocked Asian champions Qatar
The Indian national team celebrated the first anniversary of their memorable goalless draw against Qatar in the FIFA World Cup 2022 qualifiers in Doha last year. Speaking to AIFF TV during an Instagram live on Thursday, midfielder Anirudh Thapa shared his thoughts on the match and the importance of the game.
“When we were standing in the tunnel, we could see how confident we were. We knew that it would be a great match. We knew it would be a tough match, but the positivity was there among us. That is what helped us during the game,” the Chennaiyin FC midfielder said.
Commenting on the performance of the team on the night, he said, “In the second half, Sahal Abdul Samad did a really good job, he was taking on the opponent players. We had pretty good chances as well. We played according to what we had planned and we never made a mistake; that was the main thing. Obviously, we had Gurpreet (Singh Sandhu) bhai and (Sandesh) Jhingan pajji who saved us at the back. But I think it was a team effort and everyone did their part.”
Prior to the clash against Qatar, the Blue Tigers suffered a 1-2 loss against Oman. After that loss, head coach Igor Stimac organized a team dinner to boost morale and it helped the team perform better. “If I look back now, the team dinner was a good thing too. The players had a good bond. We forgot everything that happened before. From then, everything changed. There were positive vibes coming from the team,” Thapa said.
The Blue Tigers were without their talismanic leader Sunil Chhetri, who was forced to miss the match after falling ill. “I still remember he was very sick and we didn't meet him for two-three days. Before the matchday in the morning, he came in for breakfast and he was so positive. He said ‘we need to give our best, this is the time. You are young guys and you can do it. I believe in you guys’,” Thapa recollected.
He continued, “Obviously we missed him in the match because he's the true leader up front. After the match, he was so proud of all of us. He was hugging each and everyone. When we saw him, he didn’t seem ill. He was so cheerful and happy. He was waiting for us and we all came together for dinner and he was really very happy.”
According to the 22-year-old midfielder, the Asian champions were ‘shocked’ after the game. “They were shocked because I don't think that they were expecting us to play like we did. After the match, everyone was talking about how Qatar were giving their level best. They were attacking from everywhere and they were really shocked because we did it on their home ground. We went all in with our tackles and our passing and they were not expecting us to play like that,” Thapa said.
“That match was like a turnaround for Indian football. I guess it will be called Indian football’s revolution, because we held a team which was the Asian champions, and we are in a process of developing. So, it is a time where Indian football has started to realize it’s potential,” he added.