India returns to competitive international football after last playing Oman in 2019. With no international football in 2020, the Blue Tigers returned to action in March this year after the 7th ISL season. While their game against Oman ended in a stalemate, India succumbed to a battering at the hands of the UAE. India will look to put that performance behind them when they take on the Asian champions at the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium in Doha.
Qatar has been on a fine run of form. Having lost only once in their last five games, the Qataris held the Irish a 1-1 draw in their previous friendly match. They have won 3 games between their loss to South Korea and their recent valiant showing against Ireland, beating Bangladesh, Luxembourg and Azerbaijan. Qatar will look to do better than their last meeting against the Blue Tigers, with Oman hot on their heels for the coveted top spot in the group. Some spirited and consolidated defending saw India hold the recently crowned Asian Champions to a scoreless tie in Doha.
3 Blue Tigers to look out for
Qatar is 47 places ahead of India on the FIFA rankings. Given their hot form, Igor Stimac will concentrate on consolidating his defence and will bank on Sandesh Jhingan to offer leadership to what could be a new defensive unit. Sandesh had one of his better games in Doha when these sides last met with Adil Khan by his side. With Sana Singh likely to miss the game due to injury, Sandesh and Adil are likely to pair up again in the heart of the defence and they will be looking to repeat the feat they achieved last time the Blue Tigers were in Doha.
To protect the back four, Stimac is likely to start with a double pivot and the creative onus will be on Brandon Fernandes. It will be interesting to see how much of the ball India gets to see during the game, but what they do when they have it will be a determining factor and Brandon could be the orchestrator pulling strings. The Goan had a perfect ISL season despite being troubled by injuries and was particularly impressive in the AFC Champions League and could be India’s attacking respite in what could be a particularly tiring defensive night.
While Stimac prefers to play out from the back against a high pressing Qatari side, India could find it challenging to play out from the back and wouldn’t want to invite any unwanted hassle. Manvir Singh on top of the pitch could be an asset to India, as the tall, lanky striker can help in holding up the ball and compete with defenders on the long ball. Manvir looks lean but has strength enough not to be bullied off the ball and his pace could cause havoc in Qatari ranks. Very likely to start on the wings, Manvir’s runs down the flanks and his ability to cut back in could be key in unlocking a resilient Qatari defence.
3 Qatari Players to look out for
In a game that is most likely to be played mainly on the Indian half, Felix Sanchez will be hedging all his bets on his attacking options to do the job they failed to do last time. Felix’s best bet for goals will be Almoez Ali. The Sudanese born Qatari striker is only 24 but has already been capped 43 times by the national side. The Al Duhail striker does know where the back of the net is, scoring 23 goals while on national duty. While Ali hadn’t scored in the last three games, his last goal came against Bangladesh when he scored a brace. He will be anxious to break the duck with his Al Duhail team-mate Mohammed Muntari breathing down on his neck after founding form for Qatar against Ireland and Luxembourg.
While the goal-scoring duties are likely to be on Ali and Muntari, Qatar’s captain Hassan Al-Haydos will share the load of creating opportunities for them. The 30-year-old has made 137 appearances for the National side since his debut in 2008. An Al-Sadd man through and through, Al-Haydos has an eye for goal along with an eye for a pass. Eighty-four goals in his club career and 30 for the national team, Al-Haydos is no pushover in front of goal. He has recorded an assist in every two games in the Qatar Stars League during the 2020/21 season and made lives difficult for India last time they met and containing him will be of paramount importance.
Another impressive performer in Qatar’s midfield is Abdulaziz Hatem. The Sudanese decent midfielder is a utility footballer who can play as holding as well as attacking midfielder. A mainstay in Felix Sanchez’s plan, Hatem could be used as a deep-lying midfielder who can disrupt India forays forward and join the attack if needed. He has had an outstanding season in front of goal for Al-Rayyan in the Qatar Stars League, bagging five goals. Hatem has played against a few of the Indian players in the AFC Champions League and his experience of playing against Brandon and in India could come in handy.
Blue Tigers Injuries and Updates
Rowlin Borges has had an impressive season with Mumbai City and was almost certain to start against Qatar but a hamstring injury will keep the versatile midfielder out of the game. Sana Singh too has a knock that is likely to keep him out of the match against Qatar. Stimac is looking to save the defender for the ties against Bangladesh and Afghanistan and not aggravate his injury by pitting a half-fit Chinglensana against the Qataris.
India vs Qatar Head to Head
India and Qatar have met twice on the International stage, the first game being in 1996 when India was humiliated by the Crimsons. The Blue Tigers showcased a better game in 2019 when they not only surprised Qatar and Xavi who was in attendance but every football fan as David was able to hold Goliath to a 0-0 draw.
India: Amrinder Singh (GK), Akash Mishra, Adil Khan, Sandesh Jhingan, Pritam Kotal, Apuia, Glan Martins, Bipin Singh, Brandon Fernandes, Manvir Singh, Sunil Chhetri.
Qatar: Saad Al-Sheeb (GK), Bassam Al-Rawi, Boualem Khoukhi, Abdelkarim Hassan , Ro-Ro, Hassan Al-Haydos, Abdulaziz Hatem, Akram Afif, Tarek Salman, Mohammed Muntari, Almoez Ali
On paper, Qatar is the better side and the onus for a win is on them. India is eyeing a third-place finish to automatically qualify for the AFC Asian Cup third round of qualifications. With so much riding on this game, both sides will be wary of each other but Qatar is very likely to be the dominant side while India will look to hold on for another draw. Qatar is on some red-hot form and this time they just might be too good to be kept at bay. Looks like a Qatar win is on the cards but you never know if the Blue Tigers can spring another surprise.
Also, check out IFTWC’s take on how the India team could shape up against Qatar: https://iftwc.com/india-vs-qatar-possible-line-up/
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