Kolkata: It’s a tall order for Indian men’s football team as they take on Asian champions Qatar in the first of their second round Fifa World Cup Qatar 2022 Qualifiers, also the preliminary qualifiers for the AFC Asian Cup China 2023, in Doha on Thursday.
The hosts of 2022 Fifa World Cup have, since 2018, won 21 of the 35 matches played with six draws, eight losses and sit atop Group E at the moment with 15 points from six games. ‘The Blue Tigers,’ as the Indian football team is known as - had their preparation cut short and practice matches cancelled due to the second wave of Covid-19 pandemic - but seem to be in no mood to give in without a fight.
“Qatar are one of the top teams in Asia,” said captain Sunil Chettri. “They have had some decent results against top European and South American teams in the recent past. The last time we took a point against them makes us confident as a team. We understand that they will come out all guns blazing at us and we need to stick together as a team,” he said.
The return leg was supposed to be India’s home match but owing to the pandemic situation, all the remaining matches involving all the five teams in Group E are now being played at the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium in Doha - where the teams had been camping since May 19.
“The situation was different then. The situation is different now,” goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, who had captained India on that day besides putting in an inspiring performance, when the match ended in a draw. “We had headed into Doha after a longish camp. The tempo was exceptionally high despite the defeat against Oman in the previous match. In the past few days in Doha we have picked ourselves up besides getting ready for not just Qatar but the two other matches which are to follow,” he adds.
Head Coach Igor Stimac is aware of the commitment of his boys. “I reiterate, they are all good professionals, and I don’t have much of a task in keeping them motivated,” he avers. “The boys have been working hard with full commitment on the training pitch. They know that they are representing their country, and they will do everything possible to defend the India colours.”
“We have not played to our potential. It’s time to raise our hand and play the way we want to. Nothing is easy in International football. But you need to do it yourself,” senior defender Sandesh Jhingan told AIFF.com.
The kick-off on June 3 (Thursday) is at 9 pm UAE time (10.30 pm IST).