The Blue Tigers took the field to resume their undone business in the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers after a long gap of around 16 months. They faced Qatar, who were quite hungry to grab those 3 points in vengeance for their draw in the first leg. Team India stepped in with some key names like Anirudh Thapa and Lallianzuala Chhangte missing on the teamsheet. Gurpreet Singh and Sandesh Jhingan again rose to the occasion.
Coach Igor Stimac had his intent clear, which was reflected in the sturdy 5-man defense that featured Sandesh Jhingan and Pritam Kotal brimming with experience. On the other hand, Glan Martins made his debut for the National Team, and how! Following his excellent display at the AFC Champions League, the Goan midfielder was possibly one of the first names on the team sheet.
The first half was quite action-packed, as early on in the game, Rahul Bheke was sent off. An unnecessary red card cost the Blue Tigers as they were forced to field a depleted ten-man side for the remainder of the game. What followed was a sheer litmus test for the Indian defense as the Qataris came on with vicious attacks, seemingly in every minute of the game. The opposition was leveraging their combination play, as the danger kept looming in and around the box. A single mistake and India were down a goal, courtesy to a close-range shot from the feet of Abdulaziz Hatem in the 33rd minute.
Before conceding, India had almost found the back of the net with Bipin Singh and Manvir Singh pairing up to replicate their exploits against Oman. Chances came in a few and far throughout the 90 minutes, but lack of finishing denied the Blue Tigers their first blood. When we retrospect, the importance of keeping the possession was quite evident contrary to what was displayed.
Youngsters in Suresh Singh Wangjam and Apulia (Lalengmawia) covered the hard yards as they had to put an extra shift to make up for the deficit. But the pair which stood out was Sandesh Jhingan and Gurpreet Singh Sandhu. Pure class!
The Indian custodian stood tall as he piled up into a literal man-mountain blocking off most of the shots on target. The Qataris attempted as many as 18 shots in the first half, the most India has ever faced under Coach Stimac, yet the game culminated in a narrow scoreline of 0-1. Gurpreet’s counterpart, defender Sandesh Jhingan who later sported the captain’s armband, absolutely bossed the backline. Necessary clearances, vital blocks, and whatnot!
The Punjabi duo was quite elemental for Team India, and so was the rest of the bunch, as the team effort kept the team compact and agile till the very last minute. India will be facing Bangladesh and Afghanistan on 7th and 15th June, respectively, intending to end their campaign on a positive note.
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