Thapa sheds light on preparations and guarantees full commitment ahead of Doha matches

The Indian senior team hasn’t had any competitive matches to speak of ever since their friendly against the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in late March. And now in two weeks’ time, they will have to regroup to play Group E leaders Qatar in Doha in the 2022 FIFA World Cup and 2023 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers. The encounter against Qatar (on June 3) will be followed by Bangladesh (on June 7) and Afghanistan (on June 15) ties.

While the Indians are out of contention for a World Cup berth, they can still keep themselves in the hunt for a place in the AFC Asian Cup. At present, they are fourth in the group with three points from five games.  

Chennaiyin FC’s Anirudh Thapa, one of 14 midfielders in Igor Stimac’s 28-man squad, brought to the surface his misgivings having not played any competitive football for last one and a half months. The preparatory camp scheduled to take place in Kolkata at the beginning of May also got cancelled on account of the Covid-19 situation in India. The squad will now have its training sessions in Doha and will leave for the Qatari capital on Wednesday.

“It is obviously difficult to be focused after a long break but we were aware that we will have matches in June. Yes, there were no sureties whether we will go or not. But we were mentally focused that we might be called for national duty. Our coaches used to send the fitness programmes that we needed to do to be prepared. We were just mentally prepared and keeping ourselves fit,” Thapa, winner of the 2017-18 Hero ISL with the Marina Machans, said during a virtual media interaction on Tuesday.  

“You can work on getting fit at home, but in the back of your mind, you know that you have not played a competitive game anywhere. It is difficult. You have that feeling that you cannot give your best. And the injury concern is also there. When you haven’t played a competitive match for a while, it is difficult to have your body react the way you want.”

The last time India played an international match – against the Emiratis on March 29 – they suffered a 6-0 defeat that shook up the entire nation. That defeat brought down the team a peg or two having been high on a 1-1 draw with Oman only a few days before. Stimac particularly came in for a lot of criticism in the wake of the UAE defeat as many thought he experimented too much with new faces.

Thapa, however, defended the national coach and his approach. “I think coach had a plan. He knew that these are friendly matches and that’s why he got new players and they performed really well. Especially from the Hero ISL, he had to see who was ready to play the big games for the national team,” he said.

“…What went wrong was… with them being new players, the pressure is there when you’re representing your country, you have to give your best.

“When you have new players come in, it’s also difficult for us to cope with the style that the coach wants. It’s just that he wanted to play everyone on the field and find out who was capable of playing in his system. There will be changes in the coming games, and we will definitely do our very best,” he added.


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