India rode on an impressive Gurpreet Singh Sandhu performance to hold reigning Asian champions Qatar to a goal-less stalemate in a 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying clash at Doha.
The Blue Tigers had to withstand tremendous pressure from the home side throughout the ninety minutes but they held firm at the back to open their account in Group E.
Igor Stimac made four changes to the India starting XI which went down 1-2 against Oman in Guwahati in the first match. Skipper Sunil Chhetri along with Ashique Kuruniyan, Brandon Fernandes and Subhashish Bose dropped out and were replaced by Manvir Singh, Sahal Abdul Samad, Nikhil Poojary and Mandar Rao Desai.
As expected, Qatar dominated proceedings right from the beginning and the Indians concentrated more on crowding the defensive zone. Stimac fielded his side in a 4-1-4-1 formation with Rowllin Borges as the defensive midfielder and Manvir as the lone striker.
Qatar came close to score for the first time in the match in the 13th minute when Abdulaziz received a misplaced pass at the edge of the box from Mandar Rao Desai and attempted a shot at goal. However, his attempt went high and wide.
The hosts got two easy chances in the 20th and the 21st minute respectively but Gurpreet Singh Sandhu stood firm on his ground and denied them from scoring. Skipper Hassan Al Heidos had attempted a long range shot from the left flank but the Bengaluru FC goalkeeper denied him.
Sandhu was undoubtedly the star of the Indian side in the first 45 minutes as he denied the Qataris from taking the lead on multiple occasions. At the stroke of half time, Qatar were gifted two easy chances which should have been buried but the Indian custodian’s brilliance stopped them from getting the opening goal.
India looked more determined and came out of their defensive shell in the second half. The visitors’ first major attack came in the 52nd minute when Udanta received a through ball from Sahal and entered the penalty box from the right side. The winger tried to place the ball towards the far post but it went wide.
Rowllin Borges invited danger when he fouled Al Heidos just at the left edge of the box and gave away a free-kick. The Qatari skipper took a curling free-kick which almost went in but a brilliant Sandhu once again fisted the ball away.
India’s star player Sahal Abdul Samad could have got his name on the score sheet in the 66th minute when he attempted a left-footed shot from Anirudh Thapa’s corner. However, his effort from the edge of the penalty box was sliced with the ball going just inches wide off the goal.
Udanta could have shocked the hosts by breaking the deadlock in the 82nd minute when he attempted a shot from the edge of the box. The winger receiving a lay-off from Thapa before shaping to shoot but his curling effort sailed agonisingly above the crossbar.
The draw gives India their first point in Round Two of the 2022 World Cup and 2023 AFC Asian Cup joint qualifiers after they had tasted a 1-2 defeat against Oman in their opening clash.