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Posted at: Sep 12, 2019, 7:26 AM; last updated: Sep 12, 2019, 7:30 AM (IST)2020 FIFA WORLD CUP QUALIFIERS

Miracle worker

After starring in India’s draw with Qatar, goalkeeper Gurpreet says anything is possible in football

Doha, September 11

Goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu believes anything is possible in football after a gritty India held Asian champions Qatar to a goalless draw in a 2022 World Cup Round 2 qualifying match here on Tuesday.

Even before they took the field against world No. 62 Qatar, who won the Asian Cup title in January, world No. 103 India were dealt a blow. Their talismanic captain Sunil Chhetri was laid low by fever. Despite the setback, the young Indians showed great mental and physical strength to deny Qatar a goal despite the hosts managing more than a dozen shots at goal.

“I feel extremely proud of the team for our performance against Qatar,” said Sandhu, who also wore the captain’s armband in Chhetri’s absence. “It was a team effort that helped us achieve the result. It will help us immensely in the qualifiers. We have played just two matches, and we have played well, that too against two powerful teams. It gives us that added motivation and confidence that in football, anything is possible,” he added. 

Sandhu, who was unbeatable under the bar, credited the entire team for stealing an unexpected point from the away match. “Everyone played his heart out and gave everything on the pitch. That enabled us to come back to the dressing room satisfied and with a crucial point,” he said.

Following a heartbreaking 1-2 loss against Oman in Guwahati five days ago, the draw earned India their first point in the ongoing qualifiers. While Qatar are still leading the pack with four points from two matches, India are currently at the fourth spot with one point from two matches.

Sandhu also thanked the Indian fans who had turned up in large numbers. “It was like playing at home away from home. The support was incredible. They spurred us on, cheering for us throughout,” he said.

More than happy to get 

a point: Stimac

Coach Igor Stimac is “more than happy” with the solitary point but he has told the players to stay grounded as they can’t afford complacency during the qualifiers. 

“As a coach, I don’t have time to waste in thinking too much higher than it was a few days ago when we lost to Oman,” Stimac said. “Still, today as a coach, of course, I am more than happy to get a point against the reigning champions of Asia,” the former Croatian international added.

“We need to improve in certain areas. It was a great experience for us. All credits to my players, I am very proud of them. But the message to the team is to keep yourself down as it is just a point,” he said. 

Stimac also admitted that Qatar “deserved more from this game”. “They created more chances today but we also had many chances,” he said. 

Questions were raised about the India’s fitness level after their loss in the opener, with both Oman goals coming in the final eight minutes. The coach asserted that fitness was never a problem for his side.

“You see, I cannot reply to each comment after a game because not many people are well educated about football. We are a fit team and we proved it today,” Stimac said. 

“We played against Qatar and we made space for ourselves even in the last minutes. We made sprints even in the 95th minute, showing a lot of concentration. So we showed good fitness,” he added.

India will play Bangladesh in their next qualifying match in Kolkata on October 15 and the coach expects a full house. “Our country has a population of over 1.3 billion people; compared to that this was a very small crowd. I want to see 80,000 people in Kolkata. We deserve that and they need to come and support us,” Stimac said. — PTI

We need to improve in certain areas. It was a great experience for us. All credits to my players, I am very proud of them. But the message to the team is to keep yourself down as it is just a point Igor Stimac, India coach

It was a big achievement. This match should motivate the players. The boys have played well against Oman and Qatar and if they continue in the same way, there can be a possibility for India to make it to the next round, you never know. But it should not be a one-off performance and they should maintain it in the matches coming up Bhaichung Bhutia, former India captain

It was like playing at home away from home. The support was incredible. They spurred us on, cheering for us throughout Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Indian goalkeeper

I want to see 80,000 people in Kolkata (for match against Bangladesh). We deserve that and they need to come and support us Igor Stimac, India coach

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