Winger Udanta Singh says the upcoming World Cup qualifying matches will be a “real test” for the Indian football team but the recent good performances, especially in the Asian Cup, will give the players confidence to take on the best in the continent.
India begin their 2022 World Cup second round qualifiers with a match against Oman on Thursday in Guwahati, before travelling to Doha to play against Asian champions Qatar on September 10. Bangladesh and Afghanistan are the other two teams in the group (Group E).
Each team will play home and away matches till June next year. The top team from each of the eight groups and the four best runners-up across all th groups will advance to the third round.
“All the qualifying round matches are going to be real test for us. We will give our best to go to the next round,” Udanta said when asked if India can beat Oman at home.
“Each match is crucial for us. Higher or lower rank does not matter on the pitch. It is the performance which is going to decide the game (against Oman),” the 23-year-old attacking lynchpin told PTI in an interview.
Oman are currently ranked 87th in the world while India are at 103rd. The last time India and Oman played against each other was in December last year in the run-up to the Asian Cup in January and the match ended in a goal-less draw.
“Playing in front of the home crowd has always been amazing. They are there to back us throughout the game. It gives us hope till the end of the game. We will try to better our performance from the last campaign and we will work on our mistakes,” said the Manipuri player who made his India debut in March 2016.
Udanta said the team has learnt from its strengths and weaknesses during the Kings’ Cup in Thailand (in June) and Intercontinental Cup in Ahmedabad (in July) and the players have been working to improve their performances in the national camp in Goa.
“We all are doing hard work in the ground and gym. All the boys look fit. We are all hoping to do our best on the field. From the Kings’ Cup and Hero Intercontinental Cup, we got to learn our strengths and weaknesses and now we are working on them accordingly,” he said.
New head coach Igor Stimac took over the reins in May and since then he has been trying to change the playing style of the team to possession football, building from the back and making smooth transition to attacking.
“All the boys want to play with the ball and the coach wants to build up from behind. But it is not easy so we try again and again. Mistakes will happen but the coach is there to help us with our mistakes. I like whatever works for all of us,” Udanta said.
The Bengaluru FC and India winger has scored just one goal in the 22 international matches he has played so far and he is eager to improve on this front.
“Every player wants to score for their team, especially for the national team. I do like it when I score and I want to score more but I am not that concerned with that as long as our team wins,” he said.
“I want to improve in finishing, crossing and my decision making in one-on-one situation.”
During the Asian Cup in January, Udanta was denied a goal by the woodwork against the hosts UAE in a group match which costs India dear. Had the woodwork did not come in the way, India would have got the equaliser in the match which the UAE won 2-0.
Asked if it was the most disappointing moment of his career so far, Udanta said, “It was a really heartbreaking moment. I would say luck did not favour us that day. Our performance was really good in that match.”