India ready for uphill task against mighty Qatar
The Indian national football team will take on Qatar in the second Group E encounter of their joint second round FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and AFC Asian Cup China 2023 qualifiers campaign at the Jassim bin Hamad Stadium in Doha on Tuesday. Having so heartbreakingly lost their opening fixture against Oman by a 1-2 scoreline last week, it will be imperative for the Blue Tigers to bounce back - a feat which will be no easy task against the reigning AFC Asian Cup champions. The two side only met once in the past in 1996 and Qatar emerged as 6-0 winners in that encounter.
Despite the seemingly Herculean task at hand, Igor Stimac's men can take heart from their first-half display against Oman at Guwahati. The Blue Tigers played some of their best football in recent years, taking the game to the opposition and created multiple chances to score. However, a Sunil Chhetri strike was the only meaningful prize they got out of all the hard work. They were eventually made to pay for the wastefulness as Oman scored twice in the last eight minutes to deny the Blue Tigers any points from the match. Against a much stronger Qatari side, India will need to be far more clinical in they hope to get anything out of the match.
India's back four and goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu will particularly be tested against a free-flowing Qatari offence, which is equally adept at stretching the game by using the flanks and unlocking defences with short quick passing from the middle. The combination between Ashique Kuruniyan, Chhetri and Udanta Singh in the Oman match was one of the big positives for the team and much will be expected of the front three on Tuesday.
However, recent media reports suggest that Chhetri may be a doubt for the tie. The 35-year-old is the side’s talisman and facing off against a strong team like Qatar sans his top scorer will surely add to Stimac’s woes.
Stimac, post the Oman match, hinted at changes to the line-up for the Qatar test and Chhetri’s possible absence may force another one upon the Croat – one which he would have much rather avoided. Needless to say, India will need to be much more pragmatic and calculative if they are to get any points out of arguably the best team in Asia from their own backyard.
Since winning the AFC Asian Cup 2019, Qatar have won one, drawn one and lost three of their last five matches. While it may seem by the numbers that the Qataris aren't in the best of forms, a closer look at the results show that the three losses came against footballing giants Brazil, Argentina and Colombia. The draw came against Paraguay. In their last outing, Félix Sánchez Bas' men trounced Afghanistan 6-0 in their opening match of the qualifiers on the 5th of September. Ranked 62nd in the world, Qatar are a good 41 places above India and will go into Tuesday's match as overwhelming favourites.
Striker Almoez Ali will be the danger man up front and boasts an impeccable scoring record for the national team, having netted 23 times in 44 appearances. Three of these came against Afghanistan as the 23-year-old starred with a hat-trick. Expect the Indian defence and midfield to have their hands full with the Al-Duhail hitman. Almoez is one of the hottest prospects in Asian football currently, a tag justified by his performance in the Asian Cup 2019 where he top-scored with nine goals, breaking Iranian legend Ali Daei's long-standing record of the most number of goals scored by a player in a single edition of the AFC Asian Cup. Daei scored 8 during the 1996 AFC Asian Cup in UAE.
Apart from Ali, Qatar also possess a host of top players like Abdelkarim Hassan, Hassan Al-Haydos and others who can singlehandedly make life tough for the Blue Tigers.
Catch the match live from 10 pm onwards on the Star Sports network and Hotstar.