The reverse fixture of India’s 2019 visit to Qatar was as crucial as it gets for Igor Stimac. With India losing out on a single goal after an early red card for Rahul Bheke, the Blue Tigers stay on three points with just 2 games to go. An interesting switch from the gaffer points to some interesting takeaways from this game.
India, who normally play in a 4-4-2 or a 4-2-3-1, played with a back 5 for the first time. Their emphasis on defensive solidity was noticeable right from the start. Skipper Sunil Chhetri was spotted operating as a striker trying to disrupt Qatar’s play by pressing and marking their holding midfielder.
During the initial 15 minutes, India’s game plan was evident and was playing out considerably well. However, when Bheke got a second yellow in quick succession, Stimac’s men found it difficult to cope with the pressure that came along with Qatar’s constant attacking approach.
The group leaders perpetually knocking on India’s door finally resulted in them getting a goal in the 33rd minute. With their dominant technical prowess, Qatar were proficient in rolling the ball around in order to wait for an opening in India’s defence that they could exploit. In the meantime, they were also seen making attempts from a distance to threaten Gurpreet’s goal.
The Bengaluru FC goalkeeper, who made nine saves on the night, was subliminal for India and kept them until the end. FC Goa’s Glan Martins, who had his debut for India, put in an impressive performance in midfield, intercepting and tackling accurately on several occasions.
During the first half, to fill Bheke’s spot, Suraj Wangjam Singh shifted over to operate as a right wingback and took on the attacking duties on the right flank for the first half. The second half saw a much more structured display from India regarding defending since Igor had made his tweaks at halftime.
Although the Blue Tigers lost this fixture to Qatar, there is a positive takeaway for them from this match. Furthermore, owing to a draw between Bangladesh and Afghanistan earlier, India still has the opportunity to secure an Asia Cup spot if they win the next two games against the aforementioned sides.