The Blue Tigers put up a commendable defensive display to deny Qatar in their own backyard.
Eleven men, drenched in sweat due to the running around in the past 96 minutes, still fresh from the woes of Guwahati, exasperated after a momentous result at the home of the Asian champions. They are used to looking up to their leader at the end of such dynamic encounters. They did so on Tuesday as well. But, this leader was someone else.
Gurpreet Singh Sandhu delivered an absolute colossal of a performancee in Doha on Tuesday night. Moving ahead in this piece, we will discuss him and his efforts furthermore.
The tone of the match was set at the start. That was for the home team to be at the forefront of proceedings. Few Asian teams can boast of a midfield as cohesively destructive as Qatar’s, and their sheer slickness and pattern of play looked to have pegged the Indians back by a considerable margin for the majority of the first half. Qatar’s midfielders comprehensively dictated the flow of the game, but they weren’t penetrative enough to break through the Indian backline convincingly on certain occasions.
Watch: Qatar Vs India post-match analysis
The Indians had set up in a defensive shape of 5-4-1, with the duo of Nikhil Poojary and Mandar Rao Desai guarding the left-hand side of the defensive line. They looked quite shaky at first; especially the latter, who looked to be jittered whilst coming to terms with his positioning from the getgo.
This allowed Yusuf Abdurisag to make inroads from that flank, as he constantly looked to cut in and interlink with Almoez Ali near the box. He was able to do so once in the first half, but the duo of Sandesh Jhingan and Adil Khan were aware enough to thwart his possible attempt at goal.
However, the major threat from the Qatari side was through their captain on the inner channel of the left wing. Hassan Al-Haydos was a menace from that little passage between the byline and the 18-yard-box. He deceived Rahul Bheke at times, his touch was commendably delicate and the venom behind those long-range attempts nearly robbed India of this laudable draw.
Haydos was diligently targeting Sandhu right from the start, as he took four shots in the first 21 minutes itself. The Indian goalkeeper has been found a bit complacent at times with his collection, but on Tuesday night, he kept his concentration intact throughout the course of the game. Some of Haydos’ shots wickedly dipped whilst approaching the crossbar, but the custodian was engrossed enough in the proceedings to catch them at a safe length without any notable fumbles.
There was very little distance between the two banks of five and four players, who defended deep inside and near the penalty box for India. This made the task difficult for Qatar, as despite garnering a massive chunk of possession, they were unable to get past the men defending closely in front of them.
Such stringently formed defensive arrangements often lead to chaos eventually, but the communication between the defenders was so visibly lucid that there were hardly any signs of complacency or lack of conveyance of commands.
Sandhu had to make three extremely crucial saves on the brink of half-time, with a long-range effort from Abdul Karim Hasan being gracefully kept away from entering the back of the net.
Whilst the Indian team were disciplined and tenacious in this half, they always seemed to have lived on the edge. One moment of clumsiness would have cost them a positive result and hence to avoid that, it was much necessary that the midfielders and forwards were asked to wander forward with the ball whenever the opportunity arose.
That’s exactly what Stimac seemed to have instructed his team to do from thereon. The first half could be brushed aside as a major stroke of luck that swung in India’s favour. But, not the second.
Udanta Singh led the way for India’s forward line to race ahead and charge towards Qatar’s defence. His pace was at it’s imperious best, and so was the consistency that allowed him to take the ball out of his own half, whilst looking through the middle to churn out a decisive pass. Though the final product was lacking, his own battle with Abdelkarim Hasan was fascinating to witness.
Both of them made excellent use of their fast legs, with the latter coming out triumphant on most occasions. However, the sole time Udanta did manage to beat his adversary and notch a one-two with Anirudh Thapa, his curling left-footed effort missed the top corner by a whisker.
Thapa and Sahal Abdul Samad marched the proceedings whenever the side looked to break ahead through the midfield. Sahal’s quick feet and the tendency to execute difficult passes at a consistent rate, allowed him to free up Udanta on the right wing on quite a few instances.
The 22-year-old midfielder was successful in breaking Qatar’s midfield lines with his vision to set Udanta ablaze on the flank. Most importantly, India naturally looked to be a much more convincing side whenever Sahal was on the ball and that just speaks volumes about the invaluable quality that the young lad adds to this lineup.
Thapa and Rowlin Borges were persistently dogged in midfield, as they did their defensive duties to the finest. Anirudh struck some good passes going ahead in the later stages of the game too, but his responsibilities mainly included absorbing all the pressure at the back. There was a close red card call that went against India, when Assim Madibo cynically fouled Sahal, as the midfielder was on the verge of creating a critical offensive move.
The move to let the Indian side free in the second half worked in Stimac’s favour, as it balanced the game out to a huge extent and ensured that the visitors weren’t compelled to continuously defend the attacks formed by the Qatari side.
Considering their tendency to let fatigue creep in after the first 70 minutes, a lapse in concentration could have resulted in something fatal for the Blue Tigers and hence this decision appears quite crucial in hindsight. Narender Gahlot was sent on in the final few minutes to ensure that Haydos’ team don’t notch a goal in the fag end of the game. Eventually, India managed to carve out this brilliant result away from home.
Prominently though, none of it would have been possible if not for that maverick manning the goal posts. When he steps up, Gurpreet makes it one toilsome task for the opposition to find a way to put the ball past him.