A heart-breaking loss in the campaign-opener has dented their chances of moving ahead and the Indian football team faces another uphill task when it takes on Asian champions Qatar in the second World Cup qualifier on Tuesday.
To make matters tougher for India, captain Sunil Chhetri is unlikely to be part of the playing 11 on Tuesday due to fever. He has not practiced with the team in the last two days and a final call will be taken by the team management on matchday. India let in two goals in the last eight minutes after taking an early lead to lose their opening match against Oman on September 5 in Guwahati.
Ranked 62nd in the world, Qatar will start Tuesday’s Group E match against 103-ranked India as overwhelming favourites. They will look to claim their second consecutive win after crushing Afghanistan 6-0 in their opening match on September 5 here.
The World Cup hosts have improved by leaps and bounds in the last few years. They won the Asian Cup in the UAE earlier this year and they gave good competition to the top South American sides in the recent Copa America where they took part on invitation.
India have also shown improvement in recent times as was seen during the Asian Cup in January where they gave scares to the likes of the UAE and Bahrain and missed qualifying for the knock-out round by a whisker. Historically, Qatar have been the dominant side, having won three out of four official matches played against India. One match ended in a draw. The last time the two sides played an official match was in September 2007 in the World Cup qualifiers where Qatar had thrashed India 6-0.
India defeated Qatar 2-1 in Doha in 2011 in a friendly but that match was not considered an official game as India made more substitutions than the rules allowed.
In the match against Oman in Guwahati on September 5, India clearly dominated the first half with a 1-0 lead only to concede goals in the 82nd and 90th minute to suffer a heartbreaking loss. Captain Sunil Chhetri, who scored the lone Indian goal against Oman in the 24th minute, conceded that Tuesday’s match will be the most difficult of the campaign. “We are, however, looking forward to it…there will be a fight, no matter who we play. We have to make sure we don’t repeat the small mistakes that cost us three points (against Oman),” the 35-year-old talisman said. —PTI inputs