Gurpreet Singh Sandhu was in inspired form in goal as India held Qatar to a goalless draw in its second Group E FIFA World Cup Qualifier match at the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium in Doha, Qatar on Tuesday.
Even as head coach Igor Stimac made four changes to the starting line-up from the match against Oman, the biggest setback was the absence of captain and record goal-scorer Sunil Chhetri, who was unable to recover from a viral infection. The 35-year-old watched from the stands as India produced a rearguard display to come away with a point.
In the first half, the Indians were prepared to sit back, absorb the pressure, and wait for the opportunities to get up the pitch. Qatar came out all guns blazing and created plenty of chances. The visitor was heavily reliant on its stand-in captain and goalkeeper, Gurpreet, to deny Qatar from taking the lead.
Twice in the first 10 minutes, Gurpreet denied his counterpart Hassan Al-Haydos. He kept producing excellent saves, including one to deny Almoez Ali in the dying minutes of the first half as both teams went into half-time with the match goalless.
In the second half, the Blue Tigers were ready to commit more men forward when they had counter-attacking opportunities, which were few and far in between.
In the 51st minute, Udanta received the ball from Sahal, outpaced Abdelkarim Hasan and tried to find Manvir Singh, who was backing up. Six minutes later, Sahal breached the Qatari midfield once again but Assim Madibo's strong challenge on him saw the midfielder being booked. After the hour-mark, India came close once again but Sahal's left-footed volley off an Anirudh Thapa corner flew narrowly wide.
Udanta remained a counter-attacking threat for India, often finding himself in 1v1 situations as Qatar threw men forward in pursuit of a winner. Ultimately, however, India was happy to come away with a point.
India's next FIFA World Cup Qualifier match is at home against Bangladesh on October 15.
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