After a 2-1 defeat against Oman five days ago, not much was expected from the Blue Tigers as they headed to Doha to face Group E heavyweights Qatar.
Ranked 41 places above India and coming into the contest on the back of a 6-0 victory over Afghanistan, the hosts started the match as overwhelming favorites. But India put on a gritty show to hold on to a 0-0 draw.
The result came despite the absence of two key players, talismanic striker Sunil Chhetri and midfielder Ashique Kuruniyan.
Gurpreet Singh Sandhu emerged as the star of the night with a stellar performance in front of goal. He was well supported by a pragmatic back four comprising Sandesh Jhinghan, Adil Khan, Rowllin Borges, and Rahul Bheke which ensured India walked off with a point.
Here are the key takeaways from the match:
Gurpreet – The Beast Incarnate
After a series of saves didn’t help India’s cause against Oman, Sandhu once again showed he was up to the task and emerged as India’s star. The hosts failed to find a way past his 6′ 6″ frame as he made a string of saves to deny them.
Sandhu’s 11 clinical saves out of the 27 shots began when he stopped Tarek Salman’s low-range effort, by quickly putting his body behind the line of the ball. Opposition skipper Hassan Al-Haydos and Qatari goal machine Almoez Ali appeared lacklustre as the Indian goalkeeper confidently dealt with 14 goal-scoring opportunities created by the hosts in the first half.
Definitely a night to remember, the effort, the will and the guts shown by everyone in the team was truly inspiring. This result will help us to keep grow as a team and as a Nation. Thank You to all the @indianfootball fans who came to support us, you were our pillar of strength pic.twitter.com/eKvcQBZlJR
— Gurpreet Singh Sandhu (@GurpreetGK) September 11, 2019
At the end of the match, Qatar head coach Felix Sanchez acknowledged that Sandhu was the best player on the pitch and hailed the Indian stopper for stealing what seemed like a certain three points before the game.
“Kudos to the Indian national team and the goalkeeper who did not allow us to get the three points,” said the 43-year-old Sanchez at the post-match press conference.
Dear India, THAT is my team and THOSE are my boys! Cannot describe how proud I am at this moment. 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. #QATIND
— Sunil Chhetri (@chetrisunil11) September 10, 2019
After leaking two goals in the last nine minutes of the previous clash, the Indian defence looked like it had done its homework. The two center-backs Jhingan and Adil dealt with every incoming cross, making sure that the quick legs of Almoez didn’t wreak havoc, and simultaneously ensuring the offside trap remained effective for 90 minutes.
Jhingan’s most crucial interception came in the 52nd minute after a ball squared in by Almoez was blocked by a sliding effort. Unable to find a way through the Indian defence, Qatar then resorted to long-range efforts and crosses that yielded no dividends.
Sahal Abdul Samad: The craftsman
After failing to find a place in the starting XI at Guwahati, plenty of questions were raised about Sahal Abdul Samad’s absence. With Kuruniyan and Chhetri out, it was evident that Samad would be an obvious choice in the midfield. The young midfielder from Kerala, who is more comfortable holding the ball and distributing it, had a different job this time. In Doha, he was required to defend more, but whenever an opportunity came around, Samad showed off his passing and dribbling abilities.
— Indian Football Team (@IndianFootball) September 10, 2019
Udanta Singh’s probing runs
India’s brightest chances of scoring came twice in the night thanks to right-winger Udanta Singh. The 23-year-old from Manipur kept the ‘Manjappada’ contingent at the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium and fans across the globe, on the edge of their seats when he released a left-footed curler in the 81st minute.
Combining with Anirudh Thapa on the left flank, the move saw Udanta chip a ball from the edge of the box which almost dipped into the top corner. Whenever India got the ball up front, Udanta ensured there was pressure on the Qatari defenders, especially Tarek Salman.
In the end, despite a goalless stalemate, the celebrations seemed like India had defeated Doha. After over a month, India will now take on Bangladesh on October 15 at the Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata.