The Indian midfielder spoke highly about the infrastructure and facilities in Qatar…
The same grass, the same competition, and the same fierce opponents. There will be an air of familiarity when India will take on Asian champions Qatar on June 3 at the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium, in their World Cup 2022 and Asian Cup 2023 joint qualification fixture.
It was at this very stadium that India possibly achieved one of their greatest results in recent times in international football when they held Felix Sanchez Bas’ men to a gritty 0-0 draw in September 2019. Qatar were in scathing form at that time and had won eight out of eight matches on Asian soil. But it was Igor Stimac’s India who halted their juggernaut. In those eight matches, Qatar’s prolific attack had managed to score a staggering 25 goals which further elevates India’s clean sheet to a higher pedestal.
In fact, it was only South American heavyweights like Brazil, Argentina, and Colombia, apart from the Men in Blue, who walked away with a clean sheet against Qatar in that year.
“We went into the match with a positive mindset. We knew Qatar are a very good team and we cannot afford to concede early. We wanted to be in the game till the second half and once we had the momentum, we tried creating opportunities. It was a great game for us and we defended really well,” recalled Brandon Fernandes to Goal.
Just ‘defended well’ is an understatement, as it was more of a defensive masterclass. In the absence of Sunil Chhetri, goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu was handed the captain’s armband. The extra responsibility might have spurred him to do better as it was his sheer brilliance under the sticks that denied the likes of Almoez Ali, Hassan Al Haydos on several occasions. He organised his defence from the back which ensured that the Maroons were hard-pressed to find any space.
The players gave their all, but more importantly, they did so as a team and that made all the difference. Not only Chhetri, but the squad was also missing Ashique Kuruniyan and even Fernandes was used as a substitute by coach Stimac, after an intense match against Oman a few days back in which he had run himself down to the ground. But every player knew their job, had each other’s back and ultimately India rejoiced.
This time the challenge will be more difficult. Not only because Qatar will be eager to prove a point, but also the Indian players will be in action for the first time after two months.
The mercury in Qatar is also soaring but fortunately, that would be nullified by the state-of-the-art cooling technology that has been installed in the stadium.
“The last time we were in Qatar the stadium was pretty cool. There was no humidity. It was pretty well-conditioned. Amazing conditions to play football. In fact, Qatar have great infrastructure and world-class facilities for football. It will be a great feeling to play at Al Saad’s home ground. (I’m) looking forward to a good experience to play there,” stated Fernandes.
The foes and the conditions are well known. Now it remains to be seen whether the Blue Tigers can repeat their roar, which had once silenced the cheers of a 15,000 strong crowd.