Anirudh Thapa: Indian team not in Qatar to make up numbers

The India midfielder says his team is confident of performing well in next month's 2022 FIFA World Cup and 2023 Asian Cup Qualifiers in Qatar.

Anirudh Thapa (right) celebrates with Sunil Chhetri during the AFC Asian Cup in January, 2019. - AP

India midfielder Anirudh Thapa is focussing on improving his goal conversion rate and adapting to different playing circumstances during matches as he gears up for next month's 2022 FIFA World Cup and 2023 Asian Cup Qualifiers in Qatar. The 23-year-old is currently training with the Indian football team in Doha.

“I need to improve on a whole lot of aspects. I need to convert more chances. Vision-wise, I know I can do better. I need to adapt to the changing playing circumstances that arise during the match,” he was quoted as saying by AIFF.

“For example, there may be phases where we need to play direct football during the match. I need to push up front a bit more to help increase the numbers. But then, it should never be coming at the cost of me leaving a vacant hole in the midfield. I am learning how to balance it. I need to watch my back and go up.”

The Indian team, fourth in Group E with three points, is out of contention for a World Cup berth but is still in the reckoning for the 2023 Asian Cup in China.

India’s first match is against host and Asian champion Qatar on June 3, followed by games against Bangladesh (June 7) and Afghanistan (June 15).

'Confident in our abilities'

India played out a goalless draw the last time it played Qatar in Qatar. “That was some 18 months back. It's a different situation right now. But we understand that Qatar are eagerly looking forward to the match. But we know that we will try to do good on the field. We don’t want to be disappointed,” Thapa said.

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“We are not there to make up the numbers. We are confident in our abilities and we are taking it one match at a time.”

Thapa feels like a senior professional in the team with the recent influx of young talent. “My role has changed. There are many young players coming in and challenging everyone. My job is to guide them as to what is expected from them in the national team set-up,” he said.

“You just cannot be selfish and just help yourself. You need to think about others too.”

Thapa, a former AIFF Academy cadet, said he was focussing on his fitness when he was at home after the international friendlies in March. “The primary aim was to stay fit, and in proper condition so that when the national team call came I would be in my best physical prowess. Professor (Luka Radman, fitness coach) has always insisted on building muscle power and strength and I was working relentlessly in the gym. But then the second wave struck and I was confined to my home for the last two weeks. From that time onward, I worked mostly on the individual programmes which were sent to me.”

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