New Delhi: India are unlikely to make it to their first World Cup finals this time around but a 0-0 draw in Doha against Asian champions Qatar in 2022 qualifying on Tuesday has filled them with pride.
Cricket is king in India with football a distant second in the list of the country’s favourite sports, though most fans rarely pay attention to Indian football, instead preferring to watch the English Premier League or German Bundesliga.
Igor Stimac’s team, ranked 103rd in the world, have given a good account of themselves in their first two matches in Group E. They led Oman 1-0 in their opener last week but conceded two goals in the last eight minutes to go down 2-1 at home.
Few gave the side any chance of coming away with anything but a defeat to 2022 hosts Qatar, a team ranked 41 places higher than India, but stout defending and some superb goalkeeping from Gurpreet Singh Sandhu helped them earn a point.
“I feel extremely proud of the team for our performance against Qatar,” Sandhu said. “The team-effort helped us achieve the result. It will help us immensely in the qualifiers. We have played just two matches, and we have played well, that too against two powerful teams. It gives us that added motivation and confidence that in football, anything is possible.
“Everyone played their hearts out, and gave everything out on the pitch. That enabled us to come back to the dressing room, satisfied, and with a very crucial point.”
Qatar enjoyed 63 per cent possession and had 13 shots on target but Sandhu was unbeatable.
India’s talismanic forward Sunil Chhetri missed the match with a fever but was thrilled with the team’s gutsy display.
“THAT is my team and THOSE are my boys! Cannot describe how proud I am at this moment,” tweeted the 35-year-old.
“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.”
Coach Igor Stimac has turned his attention to their home match against Bangladesh next month and urged the supporters to come in droves to back the team.
The side next take on Bangladesh at the colossal Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan on October 15.
“Our performance against Qatar is an invitation to fans for our next home game. We have heard a lot about the passion for football in Kolkata. I want to see a full house at the YBK Stadium for our match against Bangladesh,” Stimac said. “You need to be our 12th player. We deserve that and I expect them to come and help us get the three points.”