WC qualifiers: India can’t afford to be complacent, says coach Stimac

‘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’

‘All credit to my players, I am very proud of my players. But the message to the team is to keep yourself down as it is just a point’

India’s goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh believes anything is possible in football after a gritty India held Asian champions Qatar to a goalless draw in a FIFA World Cup Round 2 qualifying match in Doha on Tuesday.

Despite playing without their talismanic captain Sunil Chhetri, who was laid low by fever, the young Indians denied Qatar, who won the Asian Cup title in January, any goal despite the home side managing more than a dozen shots on target on Tuesday night.   

“I feel extremely proud of the team for our performance against Qatar,” said Gurpreet, who wore the captain’s armband in the absence of Chhetri.

“The team-effort 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.

Custodian Gurpreet, who was unbeatable under the Indian bar, credited the entire team for stealing an unexpected point from the away match.

“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,” he said.

Coach Igor Stimac says he has told the players to stay grounded as they can’t afford complacency during FIFA World Cup Qualifiers.

The former Croatian international wants the Indian players to stay focussed and garner more points in their upcoming matches. India dished out a gritty performance to Qatar to a goalless draw in a FIFA World Cup Round 2 qualifying match here on Tuesday night.

“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. Still today as a coach, of course, I am more than happy to get a point against the reigning champions of Asia,” Stimac said at the post-match press conference.

“We need to improve in certain areas, on the other hand, all congratulations not just to my players but also for Qatar. There was excitement in front of both goals, of course.”

“It was a great experience for us. All credit to my players, I am very proud of my players. But the message to the team is to keep yourself down as it is just a point,” he added.

Despite playing without their talismanic captain and striker Sunil Chhetri, who was laid low by fever, the Indians denied Qatar, who won the Asian Cup title in January, despite the home side managing more than a dozen shots on target.

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

Stimac also took a potshot at those who criticised his team’s fitness levels after India lost 1-2 to Oman in their campaign-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.

“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,” Stimac said.

India will play Bangladesh in their next World Cup qualifying match in Kolkata on October 15 and the coach expects a full house at the mecca of Indian football.

“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 against Bangladesh. We deserve that and they need to come and support us,” Stimac signed off.

Chhetri took to Twitter to pat his team after the match.

“Dear India, THAT is my team and THOSE are my boys! Cannot describe how proud I am at this moment. 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. #QATIND,” Chhetri tweeted.

What makes this result remarkable is the fact that on the FIFA rankings, India is at 103rd position while Qatar is on 62nd.

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.

Gurpreet 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 us all throughout,” he said.

India will host Bangladesh in their next match of the qualifiers on October 15.

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