Doha: India lost to Oman 1-2 but their spirited display raised hopes of the sport going in the right direction under new coach Igor Stimac.
They will now take on Asian champions Qatar in their own backyard and the Croatian coach is well aware of the challenge that lies ahead.
“As soon as the Oman match ended, we shifted our focus immediately to the next match. Qatar are the strongest team in the group and playing them will not be easy. However, it’s a great opportunity to learn from,” Stimac said.
The Croatian added that the team has ‘no reason to fear’ ahead of the encounter. He stated, “Obviously, we have to change 4-5 players. We’ll see how everyone is feeling. There is no reason to fear and we shall look to score goals and play good football.”
Winger Udanta Singh, who almost opened India’s account against Oman after his shot early in the first half came back off the underside of the crossbar, said that the team has to keep its ‘chin up’.
“The previous match is now history and everyone is now focusing on the match against Qatar. We have to keep our chins up. We started our preparations the very next day and are now looking forward to starting training here. We are expecting a tough encounter as Qatar are the Asian champions, but we have to stick to our plans, stay compact and play as a team. If we can do that, we can certainly pull off a favourable result,” he said.
Full-back Subhasish Bose stressed that the motivation levels in the team are high as they gear up for their first away fixture of the qualifiers, saying that head coach Stimac is “pushing the players” to learn and keep improving.
The 24-year-old said, “We played well against Oman but we could have done better towards the end. However, it is important that we learn from our mistakes and ensure that we come out fighting and stronger. The coach has been motivating us and said that he was proud of the way we played. Against Qatar, we have to be solid and make the most of our chances.”
With just five days between India’s first two group stage fixtures, midfielder Rowllin Borges talked about how the team is recovering after a fierce battle and “getting in shape” physically and mentally for the challenge in three days’ time.
He remarked, “The first match was a tough one for sure but we started our recovery process in the gym the very next morning and everyone is getting in shape to now take on Qatar. It is a very important match for us and we will put our best foot forward.”
Returning to the national team lineup for the first time since January was forward Ashique Kuruniyan, marking his first appearance under Stimac in Guwahati against Oman after recovering from an injury. The youngster, who hails from Kerala, spoke about his return to the Blue Tigers XI and the side’s mindset ahead of Tuesday’s game.
“I had been working really hard to return to full fitness in the last few months and I’m glad to wear the India jersey once again. We have to accept what happened against Oman and learn from it. Qatar are a strong team undoubtedly but we will push them as hard as we can and play to the best of our abilities,” he said.
The match between India and Qatar will take place at the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium here.
As per the latest update of the FIFA world ranking, India are in 103rd place while the hosts – the defending Asian champions – are ranked at 62.