Doha, Sep 11: A resolute India held Asian Champions Qatar to a goalless draw in their second match of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and the AFC Asian Cup China 2023 joint qualifiers, here at the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium.
Despite playing without their talismanic captain Sunil Chhetri who wasn't able to recover from his viral infection, the young Indians denied any goal despite the home side having more than one dozen shots on target.
Indian goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, who led the team in Chhetri's absence, was the star performer for India as he single-handedly stopped the Qataris from scoring any goal on Tuesday.
Earlier, India had suffered a heartbreaking 1-2 loss to Oman in their opening match on September 5 in Guwahati.
After having absorbed all the pressure in the first half, the Blue Tigers opened up – waiting to catch the Asian Champions on the wrong foot off on the counter-attack.
In the 51st minute, Udanta received it from Sahal, outpaced Abdelkarim Hasan and tried to find Manvir Singh, who was backing up; but it was a bit too long for the latter.
Six minutes later, Sahal breached the Qatari midfield once again but Assim Madibo played foul, thus earning a yellow card.
By that time, the Indians had grown in confidence, the one-twos keeping the rivals guessing. At times, the Indians were confident, and content to play it among themselves in their own penalty box, and then relaying it to the wings, or down the middle.
At the hour mark, India came close once again, but Sahal's left-footed volley off an Anirudh Thapa corner missed narrowly.
With nine minutes to go, Udanta, who with his pace hassled Abdelkarim in the second-half, could have scripted the most glorious moment. But as he cut in, his left-footer did curl, but didn’t dip much to create the difference – missing by a whisker.
Earlier in the first-half, the Indians were willing to stay back and absorb the pressure, preferring to play the waiting game. Qatar came out all guns blazing and created lot many opportunities threatening to take the lead, but captain Gurpreet Singh Sandhu stood up like a superman, defying and frustrating the Asian Champions.
Twice in the first 10 minutes, Gurpreet denied his rival counterpart Hassan Al Heidos, thus growing in confidence, and transporting it to the entire team, who weren’t willing to give away an inch.
The Qataris enjoyed the possession, but timely interceptions, tackles, and with one backing the other and defending as a team, Qatar weren’t able to break free.
Gurpreet came with some scintillating saves, including one to deny Almoez Ali in the dying minutes of the first-half, as both teams headed to the interval locked goalless.
With this the draw, India move to one point from two matches with Qatar currently topping the group with four points from the same number of games.
India will face Bangladesh in their next match on October 15 at the Yuba Bharati Krirangan, in Kolkata. (UNI)