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Thursday, Sep 19, 2019

Sunil Chhetri doubtful against Asian champions Qatar

The only time India, 103rd in the Fifa rankings, have played Qatar in an official match was in 1996. The 2022 World Cup hosts won 6-0.

football Updated: Sep 10, 2019 14:09 IST
Dhiman Sarkar
Dhiman Sarkar
Hindustan Times, Kolkata
Indian football captain Sunil Chhetri vies for the ball.
Indian football captain Sunil Chhetri vies for the ball.(PTI)

Soon after India’s 1-2 defeat to Oman, Igor Stimac was asked how difficult it would be to rouse a deflated team into playing Asian champions Qatar in five days.

“That process has already started. For me and the boys, this match is forgotten,” said India’s head coach in Guwahati on Thursday night after late goals robbed India of a win.

At Doha’s Jassim bin Hamad stadium, where pitchside blowers keep the temperature down, on Tuesday evening, it will be seen whether India can reset. They might have to do it without skipper Sunil Chhetri, who is suffering from a bout of fever.

The only time India, 103rd in the Fifa rankings, have played Qatar in an official match was in 1996. The 2022 World Cup hosts won 6-0.

India’s loss against Oman was the second narrow defeat to a west Asian country this year. Against Bahrain, India conceded a late penalty and failed to make the round of 16 of the Asian Cup last January after losing 0-1.

“Not getting the desired result against Oman is disappointing but we are looking forward to playing Qatar which should be a great experience,” said India goalie Gurpreet Singh Sandhu in Doha on Monday.

“They had a good game (against Oman) until the last few minutes. They remain compact and if we have to win, then we must play good football,” Qatar coach Felix Sanchez, 43, has said.

At Doha in 2017, India lost an Asian under-23 qualifying game 0-1; the goal came from Almoez Ali, who scored a hat-trick in the 6-0 defeat of Afghanistan in the other group E match of the World Cup and 2023 Asian Cup qualifiers on Thursday.

Manvir Singh, Lallianzuala Chhangte, Nikhil Poojary, Anirudh Thapa, Vinit Rai, Narender Gahlot, Sarthak Golui were among those in Stimac’s India squad who were in Qatar for that game.

In the Asian Cup, which Qatar won beating Japan 3-1 in the final, Ali, 23, was the highest scorer with nine goals in seven games, breaking Iran legend Ali Daei’s record of eight strikes.

Under Spaniard Sanchez—a Barcelona youth coach who in 2006 joined Doha’s Aspire Academy from where 14, including Ali, in the Asian Cup squad had graduated—Qatar emerged Asia’s best, winning all seven games. The only goal Qatar conceded was in the final. After the Asian Cup win, Qatar climbed 38 places in the Fifa rankings to 55. They are 62nd now.

“Qatar are becoming very strong, far beyond most teams in Asia. In a couple of years, they can play with the best teams in the world. Their technical and tactical abilities are fantastic, it is difficult to find weak points. But even though we are not expecting miracles, we won’t give up,” said Stimac, who coached Al-Shahania in the Qatar Stars League in 2016-17.

The depth in India’s squad too would be tested with Stimac saying he would make four to five changes. More so if Chhetri isn’t starting because most of the goals are coming from him.

One change could be centre-back Sandesh Jhingan, who failed to keep a free header on target against Oman and looked like he was running on empty in the late stages. Jhingan has recently recovered from a hamstring injury, said Stimac.

In the 4-1 win against Thailand in the Asian Cup—India have beaten them twice this year—it was Chhetri who got a brace. Since then, Chhetri, 35, has scored five of India’s eight goals.

India are assured of support from around 1000 fans. Tickets in away section in the 12,946-seater stadium, priced at 50, 20 and 10 Qatari riyals, are sold out.

First Published: Sep 09, 2019 23:39 IST