A gritty India survived waves of attacks from Qatar to hold the reigning Asian champions to a goal-less draw to steal an unexpected point from their away match of the Fifa World Cup qualifiers in Doha on Tuesday.
Qatar registered 27 shots in comparison to two from the opposition but India goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu was the star of the show as he bailed his team out of trouble on multiple occasions with some excellent saves. He single-handedly stopped the Qataris from scoring any goal in the Group E match which will be remembered for long by the Indians.
India, who had suffered a heartbreaking 1-2 loss to Oman in their opening match on September 5 in Guwahati, now have one point from two matches while Qatar have four points as they had beaten Afghanistan 6-0 in their first match in Doha.
With Sunil Chhetri and Ashique Kuruniyan missing out, India coach Igor Stimac made four changes to his team by introducing Nikhil Poojary, Mandar Rao Dessai, Manvir Singh and Sahal Abdul Samad. Meanwhile, Qatar replaced Akram Hafif and defender Karim Boudiaf with Abdul Aziz Hatem and Bassam Hisham respectively.
Despite playing without their talismanic captain Chhetri who was laid low by fever, the young Indians denied Qatar, who won the Asian Cup title in January, any goal despite the home side having more than one dozen shots on target.
It was a completely one-sided match with Qatar doing all the attack and the Indians defending in their half for most part of the match.
Qatar, ranked 62nd in the world, had more than two dozen shots on Indian goal out of which at least a dozen were on target. India, 103 in the latest Fifa rankings, on the other hand, had just two shots on the opposition goal in the entire match.
To the credit of the Indians, they defended brilliantly, maintained their shape throughout and did not give space to the speedy Qatari attackers.
In the first-half, India expectedly sat deep and defended their citadel. The home side had at least half a dozen on-target shots and seven corners in the first-half while India did not have any.
Sandhu was a busy man as he was called into action several times but he remained unbeaten.
Qatar captain Hassan Al-Haydos had two shots early into the match but Sandhu was upto the task, including the brilliant finger-tip save in the 20th minute.
A mispass from Mandar Rao Desai in the 14th minute just outside the penalty box fell for Abdul Aziz Hatem, but his curling strike flew just above the crossbar. A free header off Boualem Khoukhi in the 26th minute was also off the target as India escaped unscathed in the first half.
The second-half saw India opening up a bit and they were seeing more of the opposition goal than the first-half but still could not get a clear goal-bound shot.
Sahal Samad was brilliant in the midfield as he, on a few occasions, got the better of his opponents and sent fine passes to the likes of Udanta Singh.
India got their first corner in the 66th minute. Anirudh Thapa delivered a long corner and Sahal took a left-footed half volley from just outside the box which flew inches away from the right post.
India next play Bangladesh on October 15 in Kolkata.
(with PTI inputs)
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