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Nov 26 - Dec 8, 2019
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Qatar target second win as they face wounded India

After routing Afghanistan in their first World Cup/Asia Cup qualifier, Felix Sanchez’s men start favourites again.
Boulem Khoukhi New
Qatar players Hassan Al Haydos (left) and Boualem Khoukhi at a training session. Photo: Fadi El Assaad

Having disdainfully brushed aside their first opponents, Qatar take on another rival, who are high on ambition but limited in skills, in their second group game of the joint 2022 FIFA World Cup/2023 AFC Asian Cup qualifying round.

Afghanistan were easy prey for Qatar in their opening Group E game. The Asian champions thoroughly outclassed the Central Asian outfit last week and they look primed for another three points when they play India on Tuesday.

A packed house is guaranteed for the encounter, given the expat Indian population. Qatari fans also turned up in large numbers for the game against Afghanistan and with the home team having whetted their appetite with an attacking brand of football, a noisy night is in store at the Jassim bin Hamad Stadium in Al Sadd.

TUESDAY FIXTURES

Group AGuam vs Philippines
Maldives vs China
Group BKuwait vs Australia
Chinese Taipei vs Nepal
Group CCambodia vs Bahrain
Hong Kong vs Iran
Group DYemen vs Saudi Arabia
Singapore vs Palestine
Group EQatar vs India
Afghanistan vs Bangladesh
Group FMongolia vs Tajikistan
Myanmar vs Japan
Group GIndonesia vs Thailand
Malaysia vs UAE
Group HTurkmenistan vs South Korea
Sri Lanka vs North Korea

Will the quality of football match the occasion is the question. To say Qatar are a cut above India is stating the obvious, but if the visitors can settle down quickly and keep Felix Sanchez’s marauding forward line at bay for a while, an intense contest could unfold.

Qatar’s ploy to attack early had dismantled Afghanistan and a similar approach could be on view on Tuesday. Almoez Ali’s hat-trick was the feature of that 6-0 demolition act and the rangy striker could pose a big threat to India’s ambitions of bouncing back after their heart-breaking 1-2 home defeat to Oman in their first match.

Almoez’s skills pose a mighty challenge to the Indian defence that is yet to gain some strength and solidity under new coach Igor Stimac. The Croatian has placed his faith on youth with a sprinkling of experienced men ever since he took over from Stephen Constantine. The coach’s tactics, indeed, will be under the scanner as he faces a multi-pronged Qatar attack, with Akram Afif providing the firepower from the midfield.

The way Afif created attacking moves with his intelligent use of the space was a treat to watch against Afghanistan and his quick-passing manoeuvres, also involving the captain Hasan Al Haydos, could cause a real headache to India on the left flank.

The visitors, ranked 103 on the FIFA list, have maintained that they are taking this match as an opportunity to learn from a team ranked much higher at 63. But they would certainly love to dent the Asian champions’ pride and their hopes rest squarely on the shoulders of Sunil Chhetri.

India Training
Indian players warm up ahead of a training session. Photo: Twitter/ AIFF

Chhetri struck the only Indian goal against Oman and Stimac later lamented the lack of support for the striker. The young crop is yet to measure up, even though they are fast learning to adapt to the positive ways of the Croatian coach. Stimac is set to ring in the changes for this game, trying to find the right combination to tackle a stronger opponent.

International football is a hard learning curve and for India, it is harder with no real system back home. It is all about playing from the heart, but the trouble is Qatar could prove a notch better even here, with the home fans right behind them.