On September 10, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu led from the back, while the Indian football team showed remarkable composure in holding Qatar to a scoreless draw in their FIFA World Cup qualifier match. The draw was played out in to a full house in Doha including a small, but loud, group of India supporters many of whom form the Manjappada fan club based in Kerala. It was India’s second game in this round of qualifying for the 2022 FIFA World Cup and the 2023 AFC Asian Cup. (Qatar vs India match highlights)
India were massive underdogs going into the game. They lost the previous game 1-2 to Oman. Going up against the Asian Champions, Qatar, a side that had recently played the Copa America and made up of some of the top talent in the continent, was never going to be easy.
Head coach Igor Stimac put in place a holding plan that centred on India playing a tight positional game and cut off spaces for the Qataris to operate in. The plan worked almost to perfection. In our pre-match show Qatar expert John Wilkinson told NewsClick’s 420 Grams said the home side didn’t care too much about possession football and enjoy playing on the counter.
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This played out at the Jassim bin Hammad Stadium. Qatar are preparing for the World Cup in the winter of 2022 and are, therefore, playing against teams ranked higher than themselves when possible. In those situations, the quick counterattacking plan is a good one. Against India, though, things were very different.
Qatar had most of the ball and, by the end of the 90 minutes, looked really out of place with it. On paper, they created over 30 chances. But two-thirds of those were off target. Those that were on the mark were dealt with by an India keeper who did not put a foot, or hand, wrong. Even though it was not a win, the result is among the most significant for India and reflects the improvement in the talent pool despite a broken domestic structure.
The away draw has things back on track for Igor Stimac ́s men and sets things up nicely for the next outing, on October 15, when India take on Bangladesh in Kolkata .
How the Qualifying System Works
Qualifying for the 2022 FIFA World Cup from Asia is a long shot to begin with. The continent receives four and a half sports at the World Cup, which means that four nations qualify directly while a fifth goes to a playoff with a nation from another continent. 46 nations compete for these four and a half spots.
Step 1: Win or finish second in the current qualifying group that also includes Qatar (already though as hosts), Oman, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. If they achieve this, they go through to Step Two. Last time around India finished last in their group, managing only a 1-0 home win over Guam.
Step 2: Round Three of qualifying will involve the top 12 teams in Asia. For the 2018 World Cup these were Iran, South Korea, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Australia, Uzbekistan, China, Qatar, the UAE, Iraq and Thailand. These 12 are divided into two groups of six. If India make it through they will, once again, have to finish in the top two to qualify for Qatar 2022. If they finish third, they go through to Step Three. Note: India have never reached this stage before.
Step 3: The third-placed teams from the previous round play a two-leg playoff to determine which country gets the earlier mentioned half spot. For the 2018 World Cup Syria lost out to Australia at this stage. If India win this playoff, they go to the intercontinental round, or Step 4.
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Step 4: The details of the intercontinental playoff, to be played in March 2022, will be known later. Most likely it will be between an Asian and either a Central or South American nation. For 2018, Australia played Honduras. If India win, they qualify for Qatar 2022.
Asian Cup qualifying is an equally drawn out process, but a far simpler one in terms of the numbers. As of the last edition, 24 nations qualify for the Asian Cup. China have qualified automatically, as hosts, but it should be relatively straightforward for India to bag one of the remaining 23 places up for grabs.
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