India’s football players are used to being overshadowed by the nation’s glamorous millionaire cricketers
NEW DELHI (Reuters): India are unlikely to make it to their first World Cup finals this time around but a 0-0 draw in Doha against Asian champions Qatar in 2022 qualifying on Tuesday has filled them with pride.
Cricket is king in India with football a distant second in the list of the country’s favourite sports, though most fans rarely pay attention to Indian soccer, instead preferring to watch the English Premier League or German Bundesliga. Igor Stimac’s team, ranked 103rd in the world, have given a good account of themselves in their first two matches in Group E. They led Oman 1-0 in their opener last week but conceded two goals in the last eight minutes to go down 2-1 at home. Few gave the side any chance of coming away with anything but a defeat to 2022 hosts Qatar, a team ranked 41 places higher than India, but stout defending and some superb goalkeeping from Gurpreet Singh Sandhu helped them earn a point.
“Definitely a night to remember ...” Sandhu tweeted after the match, adding that he hoped the result would inspire them against Bangladesh and Afghanistan, the other teams in Group E, both of whom are ranked even lower than India.
“The effort, the will and the guts shown by everyone in the team was truly inspiring. This result will help us to keep grow as a team and as a nation.”
Qatar enjoyed 63% possession and had 13 shots on target but Sandhu was unbeatable.
“We have played just two matches, and we have played well, that too against two powerful teams,” the goalkeeper said.
“It gives us that added motivation and confidence that in football, anything is possible.”
India’s talismanic forward Sunil Chhetri missed the match with a fever but was thrilled with the team’s gutsy display.
“THAT is my team and THOSE are my boys! Cannot describe how proud I am at this moment,” tweeted the 35-year-old.
“Not a big result for the table, but in terms of a fight, as big as it can get. Huge credit to the coaching staff and the dressing room.”
Qatar top the group with four points from two matches, one ahead of Oman and Afghanistan. The eight group winners and the four best runners-up advance to the third round of qualification for the World Cup.