Doha: A gritty India survived waves of attacks from Qatar to hold the reigning Asian champions to a goal-less draw in one of the most stunning results for Indian football in its history. The goal-less draw allowed India to steal an unexpected point from the away match and open their account in the FIFA World Cup qualifiers.
Playing without their talismanic captain Sunil Chhetri who was laid low by fever, the young Indians denied Qatar, who won the Asian Cup title in January, any goal despite the home side having more than one dozen shots on target.
In the process, India became the only side to not lose to Qatar in 2019.
Indian goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, who also wore the captain's armband, was the star of the visiting side as he single-handedly stopped the Qataris from scoring any goal in the Group E match which will be remembered for long by the Indians.
It was, no doubt, one of the best results by India in recent times. India, who had suffered a heartbreaking 1-2 loss to Oman in their opening match on September 5 in Guwahati, now have one point from two matches while Qatar have four points as they had beaten Afghanistan 6-0 in their first match here.
The two sides had played just one official senior match before Tuesday and Qatar had won 6-0 in September 2007 in the 2010 World Cup qualifiers.
It was a completely one-sided match with Qatar doing all the attack and the Indians defending in their half for most parts of the match. But in a departure from earlier times, India carried a threat on the counter and were able to play the ball out from the back even under intense pressure as Igor Stimac's philosophy showed through.
Qatar, ranked 62nd in the world, had more than two dozen shots on Indian goal out of which at least a dozen were on target. India, 103 in the latest FIFA rankings, on the other hand, had just two shots on the opposition goal in the entire match.
To the credit of the Indians, they defended brilliantly, maintained their shape throughout and did not give space to the speedy Qatari attackers.
Dear India, THAT is my team and THOSE are my boys! Cannot describe how proud I am at this moment. Not a big result for the table, but in terms of a fight, as big as it can get. Huge credit to the coaching staff and the dressing room. #QATIND— Sunil Chhetri (@chetrisunil11) September 10, 2019
In the first half, India expectedly sat deep and defended their citadel. The home side had at least half a dozen on-target shots and seven corners in the first half while India did not have any.
Sandhu was a busy man as he was called into action several times but he remained unbeaten.
Qatar captain Hassan Al-Haydos had two shots early into the match but Sandhu was upto the task, including the brilliant finger-tip save in the 20th minute.
A mispass from Mandar Rao Desai in the 14th minute just outside the penalty box fell for Abdul Aziz Hatem, but his curling strike flew just above the crossbar. A free header off Boualem Khoukhi in the 26th minute was also off the target as India escaped unscathed in the first half.
The second half saw India opening up a bit and they were seeing more of the opposition goal than the first half but still could not get a clear goal-bound shot.
Sahal Samad was brilliant in the midfield as he, on a few occasions, got the better of his opponents and sent fine passes to the likes of Udanta Singh.
India got their first corner in the 66th minute. Anirudha Thapa delivered a long corner and Sahal took a left-footed half volley from just outside the box which flew inches away from the right post.
Igor Stimac made four changes to his side from the eleven that started in their 1-2 defeat against Oman. Chhetri was left out as he was suffering from fever. Ashique Kuruniyan has a slight niggle and therefore Nikhil Poojary took his place. Brandon Fernandes and Subhasish Bose were replaced by Sahal Samad and Mandar Rao Desai.
Qatar head coach Felix Sanchez, on the other hand, made two changes to the line-up that started against Afghanistan whom they had beaten 6-0. Akram Afif and Karim Boudiaf were forced out due to injuries and they were replaced by Bassam Hisham and Abdul Aziz Hatem.