By Sports Reporter Doha
There’s a little bit of hype these days about how Indian football is looking up, but that will count for nothing when they face Qatar in their FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and AFC Asian Cup China 2023 qualifier in Doha Tuesday.
Qatar’s coach Felix Sanchez and some of their players have been at their courteous best, praising the visitors for their recent performances, saying anything can happen on the field of play.
But pre-match niceties apart, it’s difficult to see Qatar make any further concessions when the teams face off at 7.30pm at the Sheikh Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium.
Qatar have a well-earned stature to maintain. For starters they are the Asian champions. Then there is the small matter of them being the hosts of the 2022 FIFA World Cup. The possibility of a defeat to India, ranked 103rd in the FIFA rankings, therefore, will be something of a catastrophe as far as Qatar are concerned.
It was with this mindset that they took on Afghanistan last week, beating them 6-0 thanks to a hat-trick by Almoez Ali and a goal each by Abdelkarim Hassan, Hassan al-Haydos and Boualem Khoukhi.
India’s stock went up a notch when they managed to lead Oman for most of their first Group E match last Thursday, but it’s also a fact they ran out of steam and conceded two late goals to go down 2-1.
India coach Igor Stimac had made it clear that the team cannot keep on relying on veteran Sunil Chhetri – who scored against Oman – to deliver all the time, asking other players to step up and take responsibility.
India are also thinking about changes – to personnel as well as strategy – to tackle Qatar, but the hosts are not bothered, with Sanchez saying that they have their own priorities.
“We have twin targets in mind…qualify for the 2023 Asian Cup and prepare a good team for the 2022 World Cup,” the Spaniard said at his pre-match press conference.
“It is an important game for us. It will be a tough game, but we expect all our 11 players to give their best and play to their best.
“We want our substitutes wherever they are called to take to the field and to play their role to perfection. About making tactical changes we have not decided yet; we have a few things in mind.”
Sanchez said he watched India play against Oman last week.
“We have seen how they played in the last match against Oman and we read that they plan to make a few changes from the last match. India have done well in the last few matches and we respect them and we want to give our best.”
A self-effacing man that he is, Sanchez played down suggestions that teams like India and Afghanistan can learn a lot from the Asian champions.
“We did not do something exceptional to achieve success. It is same thing which most of the other countries do. We were successful because we had some talented players which made our job easier of winning the title.”
Meanwhile, Stimac, who had coached Al Shahania in the Qatar Stars League, said Qatar hardly had any weaknesses.
“I know the Qatar team pretty well. Their physical strength is great and their technical capabilities and movements are fantastic. It’s difficult to find any weak point in their squad,” Croatian Stimac stated.
“But in football, everything is possible. You never give up.”
Stimac said his players are ready for Qatar despite them having little time to prepare for the match.
“We didn’t have much time after the Oman game. Qatar are a very good team. We are trying to give everything on the pitch. So we have been working on the players, and talking to them on how to prepare.
“Fitness is not a concern. Effectiveness of running is important. A more experienced team would have known when and how to run. We were wasting too much of our energy.”
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