If the last match saw India have a 30-70 chance of winning against Oman, then the one against Qatar would see India going with the aim to save themselves the blushes. The AFC Asian Cup defending champions were ruthless against Afghanistan and the Indians should expect nothing less.
To those who don’t know, Qatar only got their independence in 1971, at which point the country was mostly a desert. The journey from there to becoming a World Cup hosting nation has been littered with controversies amidst many other things, but the nation has shown tremendous grit nonetheless. Qatar’s journey as footballers has been exactly like them being selected as the World Cup hosts, controversial.
There were five countries with a case to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup in 2010 and by the end, only Qatar and the USA remained. Of course, with their ostentatious football stadiums speckled across the country and robust economy, no one gave Qatar a chance, a tiny peninsula in the Persian Gulf and no noteworthy soccer legacy. Yet, when the votes were summed up, Qatar emerged victorious with as many 14 votes in their favour.
Qatar have been mediocre to put it mildly, as far as their football is concerned. Apart from the upcoming 2022 World Cup, in which they got automatic qualification for being the hosts, the country hasn’t qualified for the extravaganza event a single time. As far as the AFC Asian Cup is concerned Qatar were, at best, quarterfinalists until 2015. Their only great success has come in the Gulf Cup, which they have won a whopping three times, in 1992, 2004, and 2014, apart from the lesser-known West Asian Football Federation Championship, which was once in 2014.
However, things have drastically improved in the last few months since Qatar’s magical run in their trophy winning journey in the AFC Asian Cup. Their unimaginable run in the intra-continental tournament was followed by a Copa America campaign, which was decent by Asian standards, which was some feat for a country with a population of just under three million people.
Formation and Tactics
In Felix Sanchez, Qatar has a coach, who has been with them for six years and would probably be their strongest focal point. Coming up after managing the U-19 side, Sanchez has witnessed the meteoric rise of the footballing nation. Though he hasn’t been brilliant from the start to begin, Sanchez holds close the identity of the team and knows exactly how to motivate his players.
He has managed 27 matches for Qatar so far, averaging 1.70 points per game. Coming from Spain, flair has obviously been a characteristic trait of the manager but he has always been predominantly defensive. Quite interestingly, Sanchez has experimented with a plethora of formations like 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1, 4-1-4-1, and even 4-5-1 flat, making it extremely difficult for Igor Stimac to recognize his pattern. However, it was only against Brazil, Argentina, and Colombia that Sanchez was seen deploying ultra-defensive mechanisms like 5-3-2 and 5-4-1. And though he lost to them, barring a magnificent 2-2 draw with Paraguay, critics were abuzz by the way Qatar stood up to the footballing superpowers.
As far as the players in the Qatar team are concerned, the nation has been at the wrong of innumerable accusations for their cosmopolitan approach but has stood unfazed by that so far. Qatar’s 2014 Gulf Cup of Nations winner’s squad had no less than 11 players from ten different countries of birth.
As per FIFA’s eligibility rules, one player must have ‘lived continuously for at least five years after reaching the age of 18 on the territory of the relevant Association’ to become part of that nation. Qatar had as many as three Brazilians in their team with no clear link to the country, which forced FIFA to step in and take action.
Critics have been of the opinion Qatar’s successes have been primarily down to their harvesting and naturalization of overseas talent. And no matter what your views are about player harvesting, Qatar have produced results and to provide icing on the cake, the creation of the Aspire Academy on the outskirts of Doha and the buying of Belgian club KAS Eupen, which has become a medium for them to hone Qatari players’ skills, with a phenomenal success rate as well.
Of course, strikers Almoez Ali, Akram Afif, and Hassan Al Haydos will be absolutely crucial for the team. They have a whopping 62 goals in just 133 matches amongst them. Apart from the forward line, Qatar have this extreme luxury of goal-scoring defenders in Ali Afif, Boualem Khoukhi, and Abdelkarim Hassan. The three defenders have as many as 39 goals within them.
Igor Stimac’s biggest and only strength approaching the Qatar side would be his familiarity of managing a club there. Stimac was the interim manager of Al Shahaniya, a Qatari club, where he managed just one win in 13 games and the team was relegated at the end of the season. Stimac has previous managed Almoez Ali, and just might be able to stop him from longer on Tuesday.
Let’s be honest, India does not have the team on paper to compete with Qatar. And while football loves an under average teams coming out with positive results from the lion’s den with sheer, relentless defending, that is not an option for India because their defence is crap. In the likes of Adil Khan, Rahul Bheke, Nishu Kumar and more, the Blue Tigers have a highly inexperienced backline in hand, who tend to switch off at any time, as was evident in the previous game.
Offence could be India’s best defence as was discerned from their domineering attack against Oman in the last match, but if running for 90 full minutes will be a problem for the team, then only God can help them. To make matters worse, Stimac has revealed that he would make four-five changes going into the match and would look to give youngsters a chance - something that hints that the manager doesn’t expect much from his side anyway.
Cricket FootBall Kabaddi