Young Qatar Side Aims To Dash India's Qualification Dreams

(MENAFN- Gulf Times) India face a tough task against hosts Qatar in the final preliminary joint qualification match for the FIFA World Cup 2026 and AFC Asian Cup 2027 at the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium today.
Qatar have already sealed top spot and are sitting pretty at the top of group with 13 points so far. Today, India need to defeat Al Annabi to be absolutely sure of booking their spot in the third round of the FIFA World Cup qualifiers for the first time.
Igor Stimac's side are tied on five points with Afghanistan, with Kuwait one adrift but India have a superior goal difference. The South Asian side would have been boosted by Afghanistan holding Qatar to a goalless stalemate on Thursday, with the reigning AFC Asian Cup champions fielding a young side.
It will be India's first match since Sunil Chhetri's retirement from international football and Stimac will be hoping his players rise to the occasion.
India have had a lukewarm qualification campaign for the World Cup thus far, with a 1-0 victory away in Kuwait giving them a lot of hope, before draws against Afghanistan (0-0 away) and Kuwait (0-0 at home), and defeats against Qatar (0-3 at home) and Afghanistan (1-2 at home) left them with a bit of a mountain to climb.
If they get a draw against their hosts, the Blue Tigers will hope for the same in the game between Kuwait and Afghanistan. The equation will be simpler for India if they defeat Qatar, however, though the task of achieving that feat is anything but elementary.
Stimac is banking on the mentality that he has cultivated in his players, to get them through in the game against Qatar. He said,“Over the last five years, we have created hope within the team, which was never there before. I am proud of the boys, of how confident they are when they take the pitch.
“I've told them that the only thing they need to do is enjoy the game, be proud of their country, and take the opportunities that will make the 1.4 billion people back home happy,” he said.“It's all about the 90 minutes for us tomorrow, and we are prepared to die on the pitch, if required.”
India midfielder Brandon Fernandes echoed his coach's words, stressing on the importance of hard work to gain the desired results.“We know how important this game is for us, so every player will fight for the nation. We are here to represent the country, and we will go out there as a team and give it our best shot,” he said.“It's 11-vs-11 tomorrow, and anything is possible in football. We have to put in the hard yards, and if we do it, we could get something out of it in the end.”
For India, this match will mark the beginning of a new era, one where Chhetri will not be part of their plans. The talismanic striker and captain called it a day on his 19-year-long international career after the World Cup Qualifier against Kuwait in Kolkata last week.
Stimac, however, averted much talk about the former India captain, choosing to focus on the team, rather than an individual.“We are not thinking about it (Chhetri's absence). We've played several games over the last five years without him, and we have shown that we can play in a composed manner. We've got other leaders in the side, who now need to step up,” he said.“Of course Sunil has some great qualities – his personality, leadership skills, football quality, but I am not going to go back to it. This is about the team, not about any individual.”
Meanwhile, Qatar coach Marquez Lopez said his team would go for a win.“Our goal is to achieve victory in tomorrow's match, and we are happy with the performance that the team showed in the previous match against the Afghan team,” he said.
Defender Homam al-Amin said,“A difficult match awaits us. India seek to win in order to secure qualification to the next round. Our team is ready and everyone is looking forward to the match.”


Gulf Times

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