Doha: India survived waves of attacks from the reigning Asian champions to hold Qatar to a goal-less draw to steal an unexpected point from their away match of the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers, on Tuesday.
Despite the absence of captain Sunil Chhetri, who laid low by fever, the young team denied Qatar any goal despite the home side having more than one dozen shots on target. Indian goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, the skipper for this match, was the star of his team as he single-handedly stopped the Qataris from scoring any goal in the Group E match.
The Indian performance will most likely be remembered by the most since it was one of the best results India has procured in recent times. They had earlier suffered a heartbreaking 1-2 loss to Oman in their opening match on September 5 in Guwahati. India has one point from two matches while Qatar has four points as they had beaten Afghanistan 6-0 in their first match.
Qatar, who won the Asian Cup title in January this year, had also won the last face-off with India in September 2007 in the 2010 World Cup Qualifiers by 6-0. This was their second official senior match.
In this nearly one-sided match, India defended for the most part while Qatar played attacking football. Qatar, ranked 62nd in the world, had more than two dozen shots on Indian goal out of which at least a dozen were on target. India, at 103 in the latest FIFA rankings, had just two shots on the opposition goal in the entire match.
To the credit of the Indians, they defended brilliantly, maintained their formation throughout and did not give space to the speedy Qatari attackers. In the first half, India expectedly sat deep and defended their citadel. With half a dozen on-target shots and seven corners in the first half, the home side had several advantages over India which did not have any.
Sandhu was called into action several times but he did not concede any goal. Qatar captain Hassan Al-Haydos had two shots early into the match but Sandhu was up to the task, including his close finger-tip save in the 20th minute. A miss-pass from Mandar Rao Desai in the 14th minute just outside the penalty box fell for Abdul Aziz Hatem, but his curling strike flew just above the crossbar.
A free header off Boualem Khoukhi in the 26th minute was also off the target as India escaped unscathed in the first half. The second half saw India opening up a bit and they were seeing more of the opposition goal than the first half but still could not get a clear goal-bound shot. Sahal Samad, in the midfield, on a few occasions, got the better of his opponents and sent fine passes to the likes of Udanta Singh.
India got their first corner in the 66th minute. Anirudha Thapa delivered a long corner and Sahal took a left-footed half volley from just outside the box which flew inches away from the right post.
Igor Stimac, the Indian team manager, made four changes to his side from the eleven that started in their 1-2 defeat against Oman. Chhetri was left out as he was suffering from fever. Ashique Kuruniyan had a slight niggle and therefore Nikhil Poojary took his place. Brandon Fernandes and Subhasish Bose were replaced by Sahal Samad and Mandar Rao Desai.
Qatar head coach Felix Sanchez, on the other hand, made two changes to the line-up that started against Afghanistan whom they had beaten 6-0. Akram Afif and Karim Boudiaf were forced out due to injuries and they were replaced by Bassam Hisham and Abdul Aziz Hatem.
Post the match, the Indian team thanked their fans for the support. Indian football team tweeted the video on their official channel.
— Indian Football Team (@IndianFootball) September 10, 2019
Chhetri, who could not play owing to fever, also congratulated the team for their performance.
Dear India, THAT is my team and THOSE are my boys! Cannot describe how proud I am at this moment. Not a big result for the table, but in terms of a fight, as big as it can get. Huge credit to the coaching staff and the dressing room. #QATIND
— Sunil Chhetri (@chetrisunil11) September 10, 2019
India will next play 182nd ranked Bangladesh on October 15 in Kolkata.