Indian football team coach Igor Stimac on Wednesday said holding Qatar to a goalless draw in the first-leg of the 2022 World Cup Qualifiers was a “big surprise" and it will be extremely difficult to tame the Asian champions again on Thursday.
India had held mighty Qatar 0-0 in September 2019 here, a result considered as one of the best for the side in recent times. Stimac’s men will face the same opponents in the second-leg match of the joint World Cup and Asian Cup qualifiers, here on Thursday.
“We are very proud of what we achieved in the last game. That was a big surprise to everyone all over the world India holding Asian champions Qatar in Doha," Stimac said in the pre-match press conference.
“But that was a different situation. From the very first minute of our arrival there were thousands of our supporters giving us that extra energy making us feel that we were playing at home."
India are playing their home match here as the Qatari capital was chosen as the centralised venue for all the remaining Group E matches after the qualifiers were halted last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“But I reiterate that such a result can happen in one out of 10 games to get a point against Qatar. They are such a quality team and the best team in Asia," Stimac said. “We need to work a lot harder to get continuous success against better sides. It will be an extremely difficult game for us tomorrow."
That 2019 match against Qatar did not have talisman Sunil Chhteri due to a viral fever and his return will surely boost the confidence of the young Indian side.
“Everyone knows what it means for Indian Football. Each one of our players understand what it means to have Sunil back in the team and on the pitch with them," Stimac said.
“They will go out with more courage with him around. It’s a great pleasure working with him. I will try everything in my abilities to keep him playing as long as possible.
“He trains in every training session as if he is 25 and plays as if he is 25. He is scoring goals and I am happy that he can encourage our players."
After Qatar, India will play Bangladesh on June 7 and Afghanistan on June 15 with all three matches to be played at the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium, Doha. Already out of contention for a World Cup berth, India will be aiming to qualify for the 2023 Asian Cup in China.
Chhetri said India need to focus more on themselves. “There won’t be any surprises as to what we will be facing when it kicks-off against Qatar. We are focusing on ourselves. We need to think about what we can do, and the manner we need to perform." Interestingly, Qatar coach Felix Sanchez also described it “a difficult game against India." “In the first leg, it was very tough and close. We did dominate but we were not able to score despite all the domination. There were certain aspects that didn’t work in our last game against India. We have worked on them and hope to implement it on the pitch," he said.