I.M. Vijayan on World Cup qualifier: This Indian team can beat Qatar

Former India footballer Vijayan feels Sunil Chhetri's return will be the key for the visitor in the World Cup qualifier against Qatar in Doha on Thursday.

I.M. Vijayan backed his favourite player, Sunil Chhetri, to deliver in his comeback game.   -  FILE PHOTO/THULASI KAKKAT

As he looks forward to watching India’s World Cup qualifier against Qatar, to be played in Doha on Thursday, I.M. Vijayan cannot help but think of a match he wouldn’t quite like to remember.

That match, a World Cup qualifier in 1996, was also against Qatar. India lost it by a tennis score – 6-0.

“We played poorly, but that was the time when we didn’t have as much exposure, domestic or overseas, as today’s players,” Vijayan told Sportstar on Tuesday.

“Those days we could rarely meet quality oppositions like Qatar. Things have changed quite a lot for the better in Indian football.” So much so, he feels India could even turn the table on Qatar this time around. “I think this Indian team can beat Qatar,” he said.

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“The goalless draw they had, when they last played Qatar, in 2019, should give them a lot of confidence.”

It was indeed a performance India could be proud of against the Asian champion, which was ranked No. 62 in the world at the time. At present, Qatar is ranked 58th while India is 105th.

Vijayan, one of the greats of Indian football, doesn’t feel such a huge gap would easily translate into victory for the host. “Because of the ISL, India’s footballers are well-equipped to take on strong teams,” he said. “When you are playing alongside and against top-quality international footballers, you improve physically and mentally.”

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Against Qatar, he feels Sunil Chhetri, who is back in action after recovering from COVID-19, will hold the key for India’s fortunes. “He is my favourite Indian player,” says Vijayan.

“Defender Sandesh Jhingan, midfielder Ashique Kuruniyan and goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu also have crucial roles to play against Qatar.”

When he thinks of Qatar, he also thinks of Xavi, the Spanish legend who is now the manager of Doha’s Al Sadd club. The former Barcelona midfielder, who helped Spain win the 2010 World Cup, had recently put out a video on Twitter wishing Vijayan on his birthday.

Indian football great Vijayan with Spain World Cup winner Xavi.   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

 

“I was surprised and happy when I saw the video,” said Vijayan. “I had met Xavi on a few occasions; I was introduced to him by Shafeer Korea, who has designed the Qatar jersey. He is from my native place - Thrissur. I always enjoyed watching the great Spanish and Barcelona teams he was part of.”

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