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Nov 26 - Dec 8, 2019
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Qatar forced to settle for goalless draw by India

Asian champions fail to breach visitors' defence as they drop points for the first time in Asia this year.
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Indian goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu clears the ball, thwarting Qatar’s Almoez Ali in the joint World Cup-Asian Cup qualifying round match on Tuesday. IQ Photo: Vinod Divakaran

Unable to break India’s defensive shackles, Asian champions Qatar were forced to settle for a goalless draw, dropping points for the first time this year in the continent on Tuesday.

In the joint World Cup/Asian Cup qualifying round match at the Jassim bin Hamad Stadium, Qatar were expected to take India in their stride, given the gulf in their standards. But in the end, it was the Indian fans who were celebrating the loudest after their team gave a big boost to their qualification hopes.

Indeed, after a heart-breaking defeat against Oman in their first match, the draw tasted like a victory for India, who are now fourth on the Group E table with one point. Qatar are still on top with four points followed by Oman (3) and Afghanistan (3), who beat Bangladesh 1-0 in Tuesday’s other match in the group.

With the qualification phase just beginning, it would be too early to mark this result as a big setback for Qatar but they had reasons to be unhappy about their finishing, even though the Indian goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu did a great job of smothering their attempts. Also of concern to Qatar was the absence of midfielder Akram Afif, whose partnership with Almoez Ali had fetched such rich rewards for the Maroons in the recent past.

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India’s Rowllin Borges tries to stop Qatar’s Abdelkarim Hassan. IQ Photo: Vinod Divakaran

COLLATED RESULTS

Group AGuam lost to The Philippines1-4
Maldives lost to China0-5
Group BKuwait lost to Australia0-3
Chinese Taipei lost to Nepal0-2
Group CCambodia lost to Bahrain0-1
Hong Kong lost to Iran0-2
Group DYemen drew with Saudi Arabia2-2
Singapore bt Palestine2-1
Group EAfghanistan bt Bangladesh1-0
Qatar drew with India0-0
Group FMongolia lost to Tajikistan0-1
Myanmar lost to Japan0-2
Group GIndonesia lost to Thailand0-3
Malaysia lost to UAE1-2
Group HTurkmenistan lost to S Korea0-2
Sri Lanka lost to DPR Korea0-1

Qatar coach Felix Sanchez could not clearly explain Afif’s absence, merely stating that the player wasn’t available and ready. The midfielder’s absence affected their play and Almoez was forced to fend for himself for most of the time. Sanchez conceded that it was not Qatar’s day.

“We were not accurate enough with our finishing. It was a tough game as we expected, but it wasn’t our day. The Indian goalkeeper also did a very good job, but it’s a long journey, we’ll keep trying, we’ll keep fighting,” said Sanchez.

After their 6-0 win against Afghanistan, Qatar were expected to go hard at the Indians from the start, but they encountered unexpected resistance as India stood their ground. With a combination of grit, luck, smart defending and excellent goalkeeping, Igor Stimac’s men defied the strongest team in the group. With Sunil Chhetri ruled out due to fever, Gurpreet was India’s captain for the day. And he did a superb job, bringing out several top class saves.

With Afif missing, it was left to captain Hassan Al Haydos to carry the Qatar attack. It was all about Al Haydos early on as he peppered India’s goal with shots from the left. But on at least four occasions, Gurpreet came to India’s rescue. Haydos almost beat Gurpreet in the 21st minute, but the goalkeeper tipped the ball over in the nick of time to concede a corner.

Qatar were also guilty of wasting chances. Boualem Khoukhi and Yusuf Abdurisag were off target from close range as the first half ended goalless.

A similar tale unfolded in the second half too, but India were a bit more attacking in the session, looking for counters through Udanta Singh after weathering several Qatari storms.

The visitors could have snatched an improbable win had Udanta been on target midway through while Sahal Abdul Samad too missed the mark as the Qatar fans heaved a sigh of relief.

As the match wore on, the noise from the Indian fans grew louder while the Qatar attacks lost their sting. One point was a fine reward for the Indian work while Qatar trooped out disappointed they couldn’t nail a second straight win.

Qatar next play Bangladesh in Dhaka on October 10, followed by a home game against Oman on October 15.