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FIFA World Cup Qualifiers

This time we won't have Sunil Chhetri with us: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu ahead of India-Qatar clash

Published at :June 7, 2024 at 10:01 PM
Modified at :June 7, 2024 at 10:01 PM
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The goalkeeper was on top form against Kuwait

It was India’s fourth winless game in a row in the FIFA World Cup 2026 and AFC Asian Cup 2027 Preliminary Joint Qualification after a 0-0 draw against Kuwait on Thursday evening in Kolkata, a result that diminished their hopes of progressing to the third round for the first time ever. 

Head coach Igor Stimac made his dejection known after the match. “We’re obviously disappointed with the end result. It was tough as we expected. They opened the game much better, with much more confidence and competency in passing and moving.

It took us some time to gear up to start passing the ball and moving into areas where we could create danger. And I will say that the general passing speed was the biggest struggle we had tonight. It was not good enough to break down Kuwait.

“Even in the situations when we put pressure on them with continuous attacks, there was no quality in the delivery to help them. We could see that Kuwait have lots of individual quality in their team,” said Stimac.

While the match was pretty even in terms of statistics – Kuwait slightly edging possession by 52 to 48, and India registering 15 shots to the visitors’ 13 – Gurpreet Singh Sandhu was the busier of the two goalkeepers, making four huge saves.

“Our best player of the night was Gurpreet, which is not a good sign,” said Stimac. “It’s fantastic for everyone in the team to have such a goalkeeper here. We never had any doubts about what he can do and how much he can help the team, which he did in a fabulous way tonight.”

And it wasn’t to be for legend Sunil Chhetri, who couldn’t depart the pitch of his last India game with three points. The legendary skipper now turns into another fan among millions as India travel to Doha to take on Qatar in their final Group A match on June 11. Afghanistan’s 0-0 draw with Qatar later on Thursday meant that India remained in the second spot with five points.

Afghanistan are also on five, but trail on goal difference, while Kuwait are still bottom with four points. Should India beat Qatar and maintain their higher goal difference than Afghanistan, they will qualify for the next round. A draw will also be enough for the Blue Tigers in case Kuwait and Afghanistan’s clash in Kuwait City also ends all square.

“I feel really sorry for Sunil. He didn’t go with a very important win. But on the other hand, we don’t have time to feel sorry for ourselves because we’re still alive. So I need to do everything as a coach as I can in the next five days to create an environment of belief. It’s a very different challenge against the Asian champions. It’s a small hope but it’s still there, and we need to believe, go there and give it our best shot to try to win the game,” said Stimac.

Gurpreet Singh Sandhu added, “We’ll prepare for it like any other game, but obviously this time we won’t have Sunil bhai with us, which is sad but we, as a nation, need to cope with that and move forward. We need to prepare in the best possible manner because any game is not lost before it’s played. We’ll go to Qatar to get all three points.”

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