Today News Online service
Chandigarh, June 4
A defeat was a widely accepted notion in the build-up to the game. And the Blue Tigers did lose the return leg of their World Cup qualifying match to Qatar on Thursday in Doha, thanks to Abdulaziz Hatem’s solitary strike on 33rd minute, but they can take heart from the fact that the scoreline didn’t swell to humiliation.
The result leaves India cemented at fourth spot in Group E with three points from six games, while table-toppers Qatar remain unbeaten with 19 points from seven. Speaking of India’s prospects, only a direct qualification to the third round of the 2023 Asian Cup is in their reach. For that, they need to win the remaining two fixtures against Bangladesh (June 7) and Afghanistan (June 15).
Playing with 10 men for the most part of the match – after Rahul Bheke was given the marching orders for handling the ball on 17th min, his second booking – the task of defending had become more demanding. At this point, memories of the soul-sagging 6-0 defeat to the UAE must have crowded the minds. India, too, were well aware of the torrent of attacks the Qataris were going to unleash. The reigning Asian champions had been domineering right from the start.
National coach Igor Stimac’s words from the pre-match conference, “it will be an extremely difficult game”, were now swirling across the Jassim bin Hamad Stadium.
Weathering the storm
This was the same site where the Croat’s boys had catalogued arguably their best result – a goalless draw back in September 2019. The credit then was attributed to the heroics of custodian Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, who put in a blinder of a performance again on Thursday to keep the final score from being depressing. “I didn’t count the number of saves, but it was surely more than the last time,” Sandhu said after the match. He had to be on his toes as early as the fifth minute to thwart an inswinging cross.
Felix Sanchez’s Qatar conjured a whopping 38 attempts, of which 10 were on target, and only one was let in while a low shot from captain Hassan Al-Haydos hit the woodwork. The blue shirts, as expected, were outstandingly compact and sat deep, forcing Qatar to play out wide than stitching moves in the centre of the park. The barrage of long-rangers from the side, especially from left-back Abdelkarim Hassan, was a by-product of India’s packed shape without the ball. Glan Martins, the FC Goa midfielder debuting on the night, also played a crucial part in cutting the passing lanes to Aziz.
A win was but a pie in the sky, but had it been 11 vs 11, the visitors could have, in all likeliness, stolen a point again. Or it could have been better if the counter-attacks had some depth when breaking forward.
In the 12 matches under Stimac since his taking charge in May 2019, India’s attacking intent has been a let-down. The side has averaged less than one goal per game — to be precise, just 11 in 13 matches.
Moreover, the 53-year-old has notched just one win in these games. The loss of form of key players like Udanta Singh and Sahal Abdul Ahmed is one of the reasons. The team has looked cack-handed when going forward. However, the chances are there but finishing has been rueful.
For instance, imagine the delirium if forward Manvir Singh had converted two glorious chances – both created after losing a man. Unfortunately, on the first he failed to connect with the ball after Ashique Kuruniyan’s low cross evaded Qatar’s backline, while a likely equaliser, just before the break, didn’t have enough sting to find the back of the net.
Stimac and Co. must find a way around their goalscoring problem if they are to threaten polished Asian outfits like Qatar or Oman and reverse the slide the team has been enduring for quite some time now.
Everybody on the pitch gave everything and that’s what we need…very unfortunate not to get something out of this game. I think everyone is gutted because the way we played, we deserved something out of it. – Gurpreet Singh Sandhu
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