In football, anything is possible, says Gurpreet

Players hail the role of the coach Igor Stimac

India’s players were an overjoyed lot after holding reigning Asian champion Qatar to a goalless draw in the second qualifying round for the 2022 FIFA World Cup here on Tuesday.

Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, who wore the captain’s armband on the night and put in a heroic shift under the bar, hailed the performance as a team effort.

“I feel extremely proud of the team,” he told the AIFF. “Everyone played their hearts out, and gave everything out on the pitch. That enabled us to come back to the dressing room satisfied, and with a very crucial point. 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.”

Bouncing back

Going into the match, Qatar was ranked 62nd in the world, some 41 places above India’s 103. While defeat to Oman in the opening game of the qualifiers was a big blow, India bounced back admirably.

Players hailed the role of the coach, Igor Stimac. “The coach has changed everything — things we do on and off the pitch,” said Anirudh Thapa. “I am happy we were able to make him proud with our performance. This [result] has to rank at the top. Qatar are an extraordinary side.”

Young midfielder Sahal Abdul Samad said: “This is quite unbelievable. We defended well in the first-half. At the interval, the coach told us to come out and attack, and enjoy our football. We played it around, and stretched them while maintaining our shape all throughout.”

Emotional

Central defender Adil Khan was emotional. “I am getting goosebumps even thinking of the result,” he said. “The self-belief in the team defines everything. I was in the National team some seven years back, but it is a different set-up now. We are making good progress under [Stimac].”

Critics proven wrong

Stimac felt that critics of his players’ fitness had been proven wrong.

“Against Qatar, we proved to everyone who was talking about a lack of fitness among the players [that we are fit],” he said. “Qatar are in a different league as compared to any team in Asia and my boys made sprints till the very last minute. They defended with such concentration throughout.”

India will host Bangladesh in its next match of the qualifiers on October 15 in Kolkata. Stimac exhorted India’s supporters to fill the stands for the occasion.

“We have heard a lot about the passion for football in Kolkata. I want to see a full house at the YBK Stadium,” the Croat said. “You need to be our 12th player. We deserve that and I expect the fans to come and help us get the three points.”

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