When India will take on Asian champions Qatar in their World Cup 2022 and Asian Cup 2023 qualification fixture at the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium on June 3, they might possibly have a feeling of deja vu from their previous visit.
It was at this very stadium that India achieved what possibly is one of their best results in recent times when they held Felix Sanchez Bas’ men to a gritty 0-0 draw in September 2019.
But, this time the challenge will be more difficult. Not only because Qatar will be looking to make amends, but also the Indian players will be in competitive action for the first time since March 2021.
However, playing conditions in Qatar wouldn’t be an issue, feels midfielder Rowllin Borges. Jassim Bin Hamad stadium was one of the first stadiums in Qatar to get the cooling technology, all the way back in 2011, which means even if the temperatures soar in Qatar, the players will be comfortable on the pitch.
“The cooling technology in the stadium is amazing. You know it’s very hot in Qatar. But you will get cold vibes in the stadium. It keeps you refreshed. That was the first time I had seen something of that sort in a stadium. Even at the 85th minute, you will remain fresh when that air blows. You feel that you can keep on running,” stated Borges to Goal.
His fellow teammate at the centre of the park, Brandon Fernandes, who came on as a substitute during that match closely echoed his thoughts.
“The last time we were in Qatar, the stadium was pretty cool. There was no humidity. It was pretty well-conditioned. (There were) Amazing conditions to play football. In fact, Qatar have a great infrastructure and world-class facilities for football. It will be a great feeling to play at Al Sadd’s home ground. Looking forward to a good experience to play there,” opined the FC Goa midfielder.
India are already training in Qatar ahead of their World Cup qualifiers after the hosts waived off the mandatory 10-day quarantine for the Blue Tigers.
When they take on the Asian champions on June 3, the result of the previous match will also boost their morale a lot. Qatar were in a rich vein of form and were unbeaten on Asian soil. They had scored 25 goals in eight matches and it was India’s defence that forced them to draw a blank.
“We were motivated to do better. We were frustrated after the match against Oman. We wanted a better result from that match but we did not get it. So the pent up motivation and frustration showed against Qatar. I think because of that we got a good result. It was a huge result. You could see the celebrations on the pitch,” said Borges, recounting the memories of the previous encounter.
The FC Goa midfielder started that game. His performance was lauded for his incredible work rate as he soaked up the pressure and tried to block the passing avenues in an attempt to help his fellow defenders.
It must be noted that only teams like Brazil, Argentina, and Colombia, apart from the Men in Blue, were able to keep a clean sheet against Qatar in that year.
“We went into the match with a positive mindset. We knew Qatar were a very good team and we cannot afford to concede early. We wanted to be in the game till the second half and once we had the momentum we tried creating opportunities. It was a great game for us and we defended really well,” recalled Fernandes.
Fernandes who was brought in as a late substitute also played his part in initiating counter-attacks and dropping deep when needed to help his teammates. Needless to say that the highest assist provider in ISL (Indian Super League) will be a vital cog in India’s midfield in the upcoming fixtures.
If Igor Stimac’s men are able to churn out a positive result against Qatar, the achievement will eclipse the previous one, especially because the circumstances this time are far more testing.