A red letter day for the Blue Tigers - that's how Tuesday will go down in the annals of Indian football history after the national team overcame a mighty mismatch to hold Asian champions Qatar at bay in a 2022 World Cup qualifier away from home in Doha.
Possibly one of the biggest results ever for Indian football was made made even more gargantuan by the fact that this Indian side were riddled with a few problems. There were questions over their fitness and a lack of concentration towards latter stages of matches, something that coach Igor Stimac had vehemently denied even before this game. He would be vindicated after it.
India were also missing several key players in Ashique Kuruniyan, Sunil Chhetri and Brandon Fernandes - all three of whom had good games against Oman last Thursday. But teamwork ensured they were not missed.
As it is, much of the talk before the game revolved around limiting the margin of victory for a Qatar side which had trounced Afghanistan 6-0 a few days earlier. However, what unfolded was a display of collective strength which helped India notch a point which should be worth at least 10.
India's ineffective running against Oman was pointed out by the coach and against Qatar, the improvements were there to see. India kept their shape well and looked a well-organised team. All the players knew their roles and stuck to it and helped the team defend as a unit against a lethal Qatari attack.
Manvir Singh, handed the task of leading the team in Chhetri's absence, harried the Qatari defence when the opportunity presented itself but was also seen dropping deep and forming the first line of defence. Nikhil Poojary, playing on the left wing, was performing the role of a wing-back at times to keep the dangerous Yusuf Abdurisag in check and to prevent Mandar Rao Dessai from being isolated.
Clearly, Stimac had seen the threat Qatar has from that particular wing and devised a plan for the same. More importantly, the team executed the coach's plans perfectly on the night.
One could see the likes of Rowllin Borges and Anirudh Thapa crowd out of the midfield and if needed, block the path of Qatari widemen who would look to cut inside.
There were absolutey no unwanted runs as India conserved their energy judiciously while presenting a compact defence to Qatar. That was highlighted by a second half where India were more comfortable than in the first.
The players worked hard, just like they did in the Oman game, but they did so as a unit and that made all the difference. And there was no panic whatsoever from the team as the game wore on which would have easy to understand given the kind of pressure Qatar were exerting. Even at times when India had possession, the onus was to find a teammate and build an attack, not aimless hoofing of the ball.
Of course, credit to Gurpreet Singh Sandhu for all the saves he made but he would be the first one to credit his teammates for all the saves he did not have to make.
Every player knew the plan, believed in their teammates to help them execute it and ultimately India rejoiced.
What the result highlights is something coach Stimac would've badly wanted to outline. The team and the system is what matters and not any individual.