India vs Qatar: 5 burning questions that the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers will answer
Ahead of India's face off against Qatar later tonight, here are 5 important questions that the upcoming three FIFA World Cup qualifiers will answer.
India is all set to take on hosts Qatar in a joint World Cup and Asian Cup qualifier tonight, and it will be an uphill battle for the Blue Tigers in search of a point. Qatar is ranked 58 in the world, 47 places above India, and they come into this game having played a few friendlies against European opponents as recently as March. With two more matches in the pipeline against Bangladesh and Afghanistan, India will have to ensure that they put their best foot forward to ensure their 2023 AFC Asian Cup qualification. However, a lot more is at stake here, and their performance in these games will also answer several important questions about the national football team's future.
Is Igor Stimac the right man to take India to the next level?
Head coach Igor Stimac's appointment was made at a time when the Indian football team, after many inconsistent years, had started finding its feet in Asia. Positive results against China, Thailand and UAE had only accentuated that sentiment. However, since his arrival, the Croatian has overseen just one victory in 12 games. Additionally, the counter-attacking zeal that India had started to cultivate seems like a thing of the past. Therefore, the next 12 days will determine whether he is the right choice, more so after the AIFF decided to extend his contract by just three months just last week.
Who in the present team is worthy of taking over as captain from Sunil Chhetri?
Sunil Chhetri turns 37 in August. As much as we might want him to keep playing and scoring goals for the national side, the time has now come for India not just to replace his goals but also to find a worthy successor as captain. However, the senior players in the side like Gurpreet, Amrinder, Rowllin have all been in and out recently and, to be honest, aren't assured of a starting place every time. The only name that comes to mind is Sandesh Jhingan, and we think he is the best bet to take over the reins from the captain, leader, legend.
Are our youngsters ready, or have we hyped them too much too soon?
The 2020-21 Indian Super League (ISL) season saw youngsters like Apuia, Akash Mishra, Chinglensana Singh, Bipin Singh and the likes prove their mettle. However, in the last two friendlies against Oman and UAE, their frailties as international footballers were regularly brought to the fore. Is it the case that we might have hyped the youngsters too much even before they had the time to build chemistry with their national team colleagues? Their performance in the next three games will surely answer that question, and we hope that they manage to turn the tide.
Have we improved against better opponents?
When we held on for a point against Qatar in the opening leg in September 2019, all hell broke loose. What many of us failed to acknowledge at the time was that the result was primarily down to some brilliant goalkeeping from Gurpreet, who kept the Qatari attackers at bay for the entire 90 minutes. Tonight's game will give us a further indication of whether we have actually improved against sides that can take the game to us. Whether we have the defensive stability to repeat that performance or the offensive might to beat Qatar will make for an interesting observation.
Can we impose our style of play on opponents who are weaker on paper?
The other side of the previous question, this one is the lowest hanging fruit that we absolutely have to grab at. Both Bangladesh (184) and Afghanistan (149) are ranked well below India (105), and it is in these two games that we need to stamp our authority and show that we can run over weaker opponents. If we falter once again, as we did in 2019 when Bangladesh held us to a 1-1 draw, it might demotivate the legions of Indian football fans who have high hopes from the current side.
Don't forget to tune in to the Live Blog of tonight's game at 10 pm, right here