The two teams are set to face-off in the second round of the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers on Thursday.

India play their first FIFA World Cup Qualifier since 2019 against Qatar on Thursday. The Blue Tigers haven’t gotten the ideal preparation for the game – but will hope to replicate their heroics from two years ago. The 0-0 draw played out against the AFC Asian Cup champions is still their best result in the Igor Stimac era.

However, things have changed since then. Qatar have, arguably, gotten better, while India haven’t really played enough to do the same. To pull off a similar result, the Blue Tigers have to work their socks off. They also have to win some key battles and neutralize the threat of Qatar’s most influential stars. Here we look at the three key battles that can decide the game:

3. Sandesh Jhingan Vs Almoez Ali

The top scorer of the 2019 AFC Asian Cup, Almoez Ali still remains one of Qatar’s most dangerous stars. The 24-year-old had a pretty good season with Al-Duhail SC and even impressed in the AFC Champions League. He scored three goals in six ACL games – coming into the qualifiers with some momentum.

Ali’s remarkable pace and quality on the ball is really hard to defend against. Sandesh Jhingan is likely to take up the job of neutralizing his threat. After an impressive campaign with ATK Mohun Bagan, the bullish centre-back hopes to be India’s hero once again. Jhingan’s remarkable performance in his last game Vs Qatar earned him praise from all quarters.

He needs to replicate a similar no-nonsense performance to limit the opportunities for Ali. If Jhingan is able to stop Ali from getting into those dangerous areas, he could cut down a prominent supply chain for Qatar’s goals.

2. Manvir Singh Vs Boualem Khoukhi

The fact of the matter is that against Qatar, India are unlikely to dominate possession. Infact, the game is likely to take place inside their own half for the most part. However, if they want to get anything from it, they have to be clinical going forward. The Blue Tigers should put together some chances on the counter-attacks, but have to take them with both hands.

Manvir Singh is likely to lead the line and he’ll be counted upon to eliver the goods. The bulky ATK Mohun Bagan forward enjoyed a prolific ISL season and played well in the International friendlies in March too. He should face a daunting duel with Qatar’s reliable centre-back Boualem Khoukhi. The Qatari defender’s game-reading ability, tendency to come up with clutch challenges helps him maintain a stubborn backline.

Manvir has to be clever about how he deals with this threat. The 25-year-old has to win the key aerial duels and get in front of Khoukhi in the attacking chances. He will hope his teammates can set things up nicely – but has to produce his best finishing skills to make history and get a memorable goal against Qatar.

1. Glan Martins Vs Hassan Al-Haydos

Glan Martins is expected to receive his national team debut in the upcoming World Cup Qualifiers after impressing for FC Goa. Martins was one of Goa’s best players in their ACL campaign and managed to get the better of many foreign stars. With his energetic presence, bulldog mentality in the middle, he can help stabilize the Blue Tigers’ midfield.

However, Martins also faces a daunting task when playing against Qatar. He’ll probably be tasked to keep a check on their captain Hassan Al-Haydos. The talented 30-year-old is the focal point of Qatar’s attack and almost everything goes through him.

Al-Haydos possesses excellent knowledge of when to carve out defence-splitting passes or crosses and score goals. Martins really has to step up if he’s to keep Al-Haydos under control. The Qatari star’s movement and unpredictability makes it extremely difficult to man-mark him or keep him under control.

Martins would have to make best use of his incredible stamina and energy levels to follow Al-Haydos and stop him in his tracks. If India are to get a point from the game, they’ll need to keep dangerous attackers like Al-Haydos quiet and Martins could be crucial to ensuring that happens.

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