AIFF Media Team
DOHA (QATAR): In what can be termed as Indian Senior National Team’s most significant result in recent times, a resolute India held Asian Champions Qatar to a goalless draw at the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium in their second Group E match of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and the AFC Asian Cup China 2023 joint qualifiers.
Qatar, who beat Japan 3-1 in the final of the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019, are currently ranked 62 in the FIFA Rankings, while India are at 103.
Even as Head Coach Igor Stimac made four changes to India’s starting line-up which played Oman in the first match, the biggest setback stayed that talismanic striker Sunil Chhetri wasn’t able to recover in time from his viral infection. So much so, that he wasn’t even on the bench, but watched from the stands.
After having absorbed all the pressure in the first half, the Blue Tigers opened up – waiting to catch the Asian Champions on the wrong foot off on the counter-attack. And it happened quite a few times.
In the 51st minute, Udanta received it from Sahal, outpaced Abdelkarim Hasan and tried to find Manvir Singh, who was backing up; but it was a bit too long for the latter.
Six minutes later, Sahal breached the Qatari midfield once again but Assim Madibo played foul, thus earning a yellow card.
By that time, the Indians had grown in confidence, the one-twos keeping the rivals guessing. At times, the Indians were confident, and content to play it among themselves in their own penalty box, and then relaying it to the wings, or down the middle.
At the hour mark, India came close once again, but Sahal's left-footed volley off an Anirudh Thapa corner missed narrowly.
With nine minutes to go, Udanta, who with his pace hassled Abdelkarim in the second-half, could have scripted the most glorious moment. But as he cut in, his left-footer did curl, but didn’t dip much to create the difference – missing by a whisker.
Earlier in the first-half, the Indians were willing to stay back and absorb the pressure, preferring to play the waiting game. Qatar came out all guns blazing and created lot many opportunities threatening to take the lead, but captain Gurpreet Singh Sandhu stood up like a superman, defying and frustrating the Asian Champions.
Twice in the first 10 minutes, Gurpreet denied his rival counterpart Hassan Al Heidos, thus growing in confidence, and transporting it to the entire team, who weren’t willing to give away an inch.
In fact, the Indians were stubborn. The Qataris enjoyed the possession, but timely interceptions, tackles, and with one backing the other and defending as a team, Qatar weren’t able to break free.
Gurpreet came with some scintillating saves, including one to deny Almoez Ali in the dying minutes of the first-half, as both teams headed to the interval locked goalless.
Courtesy the draw, India move to one point from two matches with Qatar currently topping the group with four points from the same number of games.
India next play Bangladesh in their next match on October 15 at the Yuba Bharati Krirangan, in Kolkata.
INDIA: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu (Captain); Rahul Bheke, Sandesh Jhingan, Adil Khan, Mandar Rao Desai; Udanta Singh, Rowllin Borges, Anirudh Thapa (Narender Gahlot – 90+2), Nikhil Poojary (Brandon Fernandes – 68th), Abdul Sahal (Manvir Singh – 75th), Manvir Singh.