DOHA, 02 June 2021: The final run-in into the FIFA WC 2022 Asian qualifiers commences on Thursday as India takes on hosts Qatar in Doha. It has been over 18 months of no competitive action for all teams involved due to the worldwide pandemic. On Thursday night India would fight it out for a spot in the 2023 Asian Cup qualifiers.

Qatar placed 58th in the FIFA rankings, boasts of a rich competitive experience after a decent outing at Copa America in 2019. They also ended up victorious at the Asian Cup held that year, defeating Japan in the final. India, on the other hand, is placed 47 rungs below Qatar in the FIFA rankings. They’ve found it difficult in the ongoing WC qualifiers, managing only four points from 5 games. However, they’d look to turn it around this time with one eye on September’s Asian Cup qualifiers.

On the eve of the mega clash, Football Monk takes a look at the major aspects of the game.

India Football Team
The Blue Tigers training at Doha ahead of the match; Image via AIFF

History of the rivalry

India and Qatar have locked horns only twice before Thursday’s showdown. They faced off for the first time in a WC 1998 qualifier in 1996 in Doha when Qatar swat aside India 6-0. Fast forward to 2019, the two teams met again in Doha for the ongoing WC qualifiers. Indian custodian Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, well-aided by the backline, managed to quell every Qatari attack. Earning India a precious point. 

Key aspects to look out for

  • Igor Stimac would once again be tilted towards fielding a side with a mixture of youth and experience. He’ll certainly target a good result against the reigning Asian champions with his job on the line.
  • The Blue Tigers would have their task cut out – defend stout and log as many points as possible. Although the burden of progressing to the next round is off their shoulders for good. There’s still a lot at stake. Anything that they’d earn against Qatar would of course be a huge boost towards their Asian Cup qualification scenario.
Sunil Chettri is back in the squad; Image via AIFF
  • Qatar, on the other hand, has won five out of their six matches and has almost secured their Asian Cup berth. The sole motivation for them going into the qualifiers is a top-place finish in the group stage, coupled with some valuable game time ahead of the CONCACAF Gold Cup, where they are playing as an invitee. 
  • Qatar would definitely be pulling their socks to earn a positive result against the only team they couldn’t score past in the qualifiers.
  • Indian defense needs to be at their very best to contain the Qatari attack once more as the two sides aim at different objectives.

Key battles

Almoez Ali  vs Gurpreet Singh Sandhu :

Once again, the war will be dominated by the battle between the prolific Qatari forward line and the resolute Indian defense. With six goals already in the qualifiers, Almoez Ali will be the one leading the line again on Thursday. The likes of Jhingan and Gurpreet need to be at their absolute best to keep him at bay. Gurpreet’s heroics last time out came to India’s rescue as the Blue Tigers would bank on him once again. 

Sandesh may turn crucial in the defense; Image via AIFF
Akram Afif vs Rahul Bheke :

Afif dwells on the left-wing for Qatar and he would be up against the Indian right flank. With his dribbles and dazzling runs, he usually leaves opponents off-guard. Missing out the previous meeting due to injury, he’ll be raring to go at the Indian defense. It would certainly take a humongous effort from Bheke and his partners in defense to come up unscathed against Afif.

Author’s take

With the battle lines drawn, it would be an interesting duel to watch, especially India’s defensive strengths against a top-notch attack. Going up against Asia’s best would be the extra incentive as the Blue Tigers would target nothing short of a fairytale run. Even a point against the World Cup hosts would be a major boost in India’s bid for Asian Cup qualifiers.

Follow Football Monk on Instagram and join our community on Telegram.

Also Read: