The Maroons are being considered as the clear favorites against the Blue Tigers.
India take on Qatar in their second FIFA World Cup qualifier in Doha on Tuesday. The Blue Tigers will rue their missed opportunity to pick up points against Oman, but there’s no use crying over spilled milk, as the Asian champions pose a massively different hurdle to Igor Stimac’s plans. The West Asian nation brushed aside Afghanistan 6-0 in their first qualifier and with Felix Sanchez in the hotseat, they do not seem to be in a mood to stop.
India, meanwhile, will be looking to earn some reputation after calls from all quarters criticized the fitness levels of the players, who looked tired against the Omani opposition in the second half. Several players, including key central midfielder Anirudh Thapa, looked out of breath – something that cost the home side dearly, as they conceded two goals and three points in the last eight minutes of the game.
Stimac’s boys, though, had started the game well. Udanta Singh had hit the post after a swift interchange of play and then talisman Sunil Chhetri scored from a smartly worked free-kick. But, the hosts failed to keep the ball to themselves in the latter stages of the second half. It would be interesting to see how the boys approach this one.
Watch: Qatar Vs India tactical preview
About The Teams
If the word marauding had to have a face in Asian football, it would be the team photograph of the Asian champions. They have been relentless against continental opposition and were recently invited to participate in the Copa America. They drew 2-2 against Paraguay and perished to defeats in the other games, but gave a good account of themselves in alien conditions.
They defeated Japan 3-1 in the final of the AFC Asian Cup 2019, with both forwards Almoez Ali and Akram Afif joining Abdulaziz on the scoresheet. This team’s dynamism and frequent change in shape is very difficult to deal with and India will have to be at their very best to nullify this challenge. Karim Boudiaf and Assim Madibo are probably the best defensive midfield pairing in Asian football, with Boudiaf equally capable of shooting, breaking down opposition play and playing key passes at will. His physicality, too, is a massive advantage.
Qatar are one of the most fast and consistently running teams on the continent and create chances regularly. Thwarting that will be key to taking the game by the scruff of its neck and creating an upset, but are India physically ready for it?
Coach Stimac will be both buoyed and gutted by what he had seen unfurl on the pitch against Oman. India started the game on the front foot and dominated proceedings for long parts. The players, too, looked comfortable in the system in place, as they changed positions accordingly and kept their calm.
The manager has already said that there will be four-five changes and Vinit Rai and Sahal Abdul Samad would probably come into the playing XI. A third defender, too, could come in, if India want to be pragmatic and go with a defense-first strategy. The recently-returned Ashique Kuruniyan should be taken care of.
Lallianzuala Chhangte could also be given a look-in, if Stimac wants to hurt his opponents with pace. But, that would mean India loses a passing expert like Brandon Fernandes, whose delightful balls could hurt any opposition. Goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu and his defensive teammates don’t deserve to be dropped after a positive display against Oman. Rahul Bheke’s mistake may have cost India dearly, but the Bengaluru FC player still deserves his place.
Qatar’s probable lineup against India
Basically, they need to keep doing what they do best – interchange positions, press hard and run at the opposition like it’s the end of the world. Qatar stand at 62nd on the FIFA rankings and the gulf on the table will be evident on the pitch. Their prima facie attacking pair is on a wild hunt, with Ali earning a hat-trick against Afghanistan in the last game.
Ali was the highest scorer during the AFC Asian Cup and is in the mould of Samuel Eto’o, when he played for Jose Mourinho’s treble-winning Inter side in 2010. He presses hard and transcends to the wings to support his full-backs. In the box, he’s a sniper and has a great shooting range. His work rate and pairing with Afif is a nightmare for most defenders.
Qatar can be expected to start in a 4-2-3-1 shape, but will constantly change to a 4-2-4 while attacking and turn into a 4-5-1 while defending. Their full-backs are very dangerous while attacking and their crosses are usually around the six-yard box.
India’s probable lineup against Qatar
India will do well to hold on to the ball, because if they don’t, they’ll suffer. Qatar have way too much talent and trickery to do things when they’re in possession. If India accept the fact that they’ve to defend their way out of this game, they can play an extra defender alongside Adil Khan and Sandesh Jhingan, to allow a little more breathing space to the midfield and forward line.
India may also want to add a little more thrust and speed upfront, because Qatar have perennially played a high line and it will be India’s only and best chance to find space behind the Qatari defenders to attack. If this has to come to fruition, Brandon and Thapa will have to play a huge supporting role to the onrushing Udanta and Kuruniyan. Both forwards will be expected to look for cut-ins as well, in case an attacking and smartly-positioned Chhetri finds space in or around the box.
There have been few reports claiming that Chhetri is doubtful for the game. However, there has been no official communication regarding the same from the AIFF.
Qatar: Al Sheeb (GK), Pedro Carvalho, Tarek Salman, Boualem Khoukhi, Abdelkarim Hassan, Assim Madibo, Karim Boudiaf, Akram Afif, Yusuf Abdurisag, Hassan Al-Haydos, Almoez Ali
India: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu (GK), Rahul Bheke, Sandesh Jhingan, Adil Khan, Subhashish Bose, Rowlin Borges, Anirudh Thapa, Brandon Fernandes, Udanta Singh, Sunil Chhetri and Ashique Kuruniyan
Players To Watch
Karim Boudiaf (Qatar): If you’ve seen this man play, you already know why he’s so crucial for his side. If you haven’t, you will. Boudiaf is like a wall in the middle of the pitch and may remind you of a certain Mark Van Bommel, just more creative and with better attacking verve. Nullifying him looks impossible, so Indian players would do well to just keep the ball away from him.
Ashique Kuruniyan (India): Kuruniyan may not be India’s best bet to put the ball in the back of the net, but is certainly India’s best bet to carry it into the opposition box at the moment. The returning boy gave a supreme account of himself against Oman and if he finds his rhythm again, he might cause a problem or two for the Qatari defense.
What To Expect
Heavy domination from Qatar is on the cards. India will not be able to keep the ball as much as they did against Oman due to the heavy pressing of the opposition, but if they still try, it will be interesting or could be self-combusting as well. India should ideally go for a counter-attacking strategy, but it will all depend on Stimac’s plans. It wouldn’t be shocking if this match ends with India losing.
The match, that is being played at the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium in Doha, will begin at 10 PM IST. However, there has been no news regarding the official telecast or streaming of the game in India as of now.