Preview: Out to restore their good name, India in readiness for Qatar challenge in Doha joint qualifiers
International football resumes for India as they take on Qatar in their 2022 FIFA World Cup and 2023 AFC Asian Cup qualifier at the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium in Doha on Thursday.
The previous match between these two teams in Group E had ended in a 0-0 draw in September 2019. The Indians have no chance as regards 2022 FIFA World Cup qualification, however, they can still qualify for the 2023 AFC Asian Cup. As of now they are placed fourth with three points from five games and will have to come up with desirable results, first against Qatar and then against Bangladesh (June 7) and Afghanistan (June 15).
The Blue Tigers should be charged up heading into the Qatar tie; out to prove a point in light of the result in their last international match, a friendly against the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in late March earlier this year. Igor Stimac’s men lost that encounter 6-0 – just a few days after their 1-1 draw against Oman -- and the head coach particularly bore the brunt of the criticism in the wake of India’s biggest defeat in over a decade.
In those two ties, Stimac had handed debuts to as many as 11 players but the 28-member squad in Qatar is largely made up of tried and tested players. Nine out of eleven players who started last time against Qatar are still part of the squad – Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Sahal Abdul Samad, Manvir Singh, Sandesh Jhingan, Anirudh Thapa, Udanta Singh, Rowllin Borges, Adil Khan and Rahul Bheke -- and in view of their experience from that high-intensity game, they should get the go-ahead to make the country proud again against the Asian champions.
India would also be buoyed by the return of skipper Sunil Chhetri who had to miss the international friendlies in March on account of testing positive for Covid-19 and the subsequent recovery. In fact, the last time India played Qatar, he didn’t feature in that match either owing to illness.
Meanwhile, group leaders Qatar look as formidable as ever. All eleven players who started against India in September 2019 are in the squad. Strikers Almoez Ali and Hassan Al Haydos will particularly be to watch out for. Akram Afif, who had missed the September game, is back in the squad. He had provided 10 assists in the 2019 AFC Asian Cup and will be another player to watch out for from Felix Sanchez’s team.
When all is said and done, India have everything to play for compared to their rivals who have earned automatic qualification for the 2022 World Cup on account of being hosts. Qatar are participating in these joint qualifiers in order to qualify for the 2023 AFC Asian Cup finals, which they will directly if they finish either top of the group or be among the four best runner-up teams across all eight groups. At present, with 16 points from six games, they look good for the 2023 event to be held in China.
Stimac had come in for a lot of criticism after the UAE defeat in March and this match is a good opportunity for him and his men to restore their good name. Nothing like it if they can beat the Qataris on Thursday, however, if truth be told, in light of the might of Sanchez’s men, even a draw -- just like last time -- will be more than welcome.
“We are very proud of what we achieved in the last game. That was a big surprise to everyone all over the world – India holding Asian champions Qatar in Doha. But that was a different situation. From the very first minute of our arrival, there were thousands of our supporters giving us that extra energy making us feel that we were playing at home.
“But I reiterate that such a result can happen in one out of 10 games – to get a point against Qatar. They are such a quality team and the best team in Asia. We need to work a lot harder to get continuous success against better sides. It will be an extremely difficult game for us tomorrow," Stimac said ahead of the game.
GOALKEEPERS: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Amrinder Singh, Dheeraj Singh
DEFENDERS: Pritam Kotal, Rahul Bheke, Narender Gahlot, Chinglensana Singh, Sandesh Jhingan, Adil Khan, Akash Mishra, Subhasish Bose
MIDFIELDERS: Udanta Singh, Brandon Fernandes, Liston Colaco, Rowllin Borges, Glan Martins, Anirudh Thapa, Pronay Halder, Suresh Wangjam, Lalengmawia, Sahal Abdul Samad, Mohammed Yasir, Lallianzuala Chhangte, Bipin Singh, Ashique Kuruniyan
FORWARDS: Ishan Pandita, Sunil Chhetri, Manvir Singh.
Kick-off time: 10:30 pm IST
Live telecast: Star Sports Network
Streaming: Disney+ Hotstar and JioTV