Tuesday, May 21, 2024

India seek inspiration from 2019 stalemate against Qatar in 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifier

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India will take inspiration from their famous goal-less draw against Asian champions Qatar four years ago when they face the same opponents in a 2026 FIFA World Cup second round qualifiers match in Bhubaneswar on Tuesday.

Their confidence boosted after the 1-0 away win against Kuwait on November 16, India will hope to give a tough fight to Qatar, though the fancied visiting side will start as firm favourites. India had surprised the football fraternity when they soaked up waves of attacks to hold Qatar 0-0 on September 10, 2019 in their 2022 World Cup second round qualifiers in Doha. Qatar were then in red-hot form, having won the Asia Cup title in early 2019.

Talismanic India captain Sunil Chhetri was absent in that match as he was indisposed and he would be eager to show his class at the Kalinga Stadium on Tuesday, though scoring chances for the hosts are expected to be far less than the visitors.

Goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, who had captained the team that night in Doha in front of a partisan expatriate crowd, will have to be at his best again on Tuesday to thwart the marauding Qataris as he had done four years ago.

Ranked 61 in the world, Qatar are coming off a 8-1 thrashing of Afghanistan in their earlier match in Doha on November 16, and they would be looking to make the record of the drawn game in 2019 straight with a dominating win against the 102nd-ranked India.

Qatar were 1-0 victors in the reverse fixture of the two teams in the 2022 World Cup qualifiers.

Star striker Almoez Ali, who struck four times against Afghanistan the other day and was the top-scorer for Qatar at the 2019 Asian Cup with nine goals, would be the man to watch out for as he can create trouble at the Indian defence, which looked weak in the absence of Anwar Ali.

Sandhu would remember that he and India were lucky in Doha in 2019 as Ali was denied by the upright and the Indian custodian will have to marshal the defence, along with veteran Sandesh Jhinghan.

Head coach Igor Stimac could not use the services of both Ali and defensive midfielder Jeakson Singh in the Kuwait match due to injuries, and it was a blow to the plans of the Croatian tactician though India won the match.

Ali had suffered an ankle injury in Mohun Bagan’s AFC Cup match against Bashundhara Kings of Bangladesh last month. Kerala Blasters player Jeakson suffered a shoulder injury in an Indian Super League match against Mumbai City FC and he had undergone a successful surgery early this month.

Midfield mainstay Sahal Abdul Samad and Manvir Singh, who scored the lone goal for India against Kuwait, were there in Doha four years ago and they would look to make life difficult for the Qataris, more so after the duo’s good outing in Kuwait City.

Stimac was just a few months into India head coach’s job in the 2019 match, and after four years, he feels a positive result against Qatar is “not unfeasible”.

“We have analysed Qatar from every angle and position and know very well what they are capable of in terms of speed and strength. Their defensive and offensive positions are immaculate, which they demonstrated against Afghanistan by scoring eight goals,” Stimac said.

“It is going to be very difficult, Qatar are one of the pre-tournament favourites from the group. We do not have high expectations but we know we have a chance and we have to grab that with both hands.

“The first and bigger part was accomplished by winning against Kuwait, now I want the boys to show their quality against Qatar,” he said.

India are placed in Group A alongside Qatar, Kuwait and Afghanistan with the top two from the group progressing to the third round of the FIFA World Cup qualifiers.

The top two teams from each group will also secure qualification to the 2027 AFC Asian Cup.

The Blue Tigers have never advanced to the third round of AFC’s FIFA World Cup qualifiers but they now have a high chance of doing so after their 1-0 win over Kuwait.

 

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