A 10-man India lost 0-1 to Asian champions Qatar with goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu’s outstanding performance coming in the way of a heavier loss for the tourists in their World Cup qualifying round match here.
Abdel Aziz scored in the 33rd minute in a match completely dominated by the Qataris on Thursday night.
The two sides had played out a goal-less draw in their first leg match here in September 2019, mainly due to Sandhu’s impressive show under the bar that time as well.
India played with 10 men from the 18th minute onwards as Rahul Bheke received his marching orders after picking up a second yellow card for handling the ball outside the box. He had earlier received a yellow card in the ninth minute.
India are already out of contention for a World Cup berth but they are still in the reckoning for the 2023 Asian Cup.
Igor Stimac’s men still have two matches in the joint qualifiers to salvage some pride and notch up at least a win. They play Bangladesh on June 7 and Afghanistan on June 15.
Group toppers Qatar, who are yet to lose a match, came up with waves of attacks and more than half their squad stayed put in the Indian half for most of the time. They had 66 per cent possession as against 34 per cent of India.
But for Sandhu’s heroics, India would have lost the match by a big margin. He pulled off as many as nine saves in the Group E match played at Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium Thursday night.
In fact, Qatar had 29 shots on opposition goal as against India’s none. India did have two good moves from counter-attacks but Manvir Singh failed to make them count.
India captain Sunil Chhetri, who returned to the team after recovering from COVID-19, was replaced by Udanta Singh at the resumption of second half.
A winless India remained in fourth spot in the group with three points from six matches.
They are two points behind Afghanistan (third with five points) who played out a 1-1 draw against Bangladesh earlier in the day.
It was all Qatar from the very beginning as Felix Sanchez’s men put India under pressure in the first minute with Abdelkarim Hassan blasting his effort just wide from outside the box.
Hassan then had another chance in the fourth minute but his effort off Karim Boudiaf’s corner was saved by Sandhu.
Qatar came close to scoring again in the 15th minute after Yusuf Abdurisag did well on the right to cut back in and relay the ball to Abdel Aziz Hatim, who however hit his volley over the bar.
Despite being a man down, India showed determination and continued to deny Qatar with Sandhu foiling the West Asians’ attempts at goal.
Debutant Glan Martins was impressive, pulling the strings in mid-field alongside Bipin Singh Thounaojam and Suresh Singh Wangjam.
India had their first real look at the Qatari goal in the 29th minute when Ashique Kuruniyan managed to slip past his marker and essayed it behind the defensive line for an onrushing Manvir.
But the striker’s touch let him down as the Qatar goalkeeper collected the ball.
However, Qatar scored the opening goal in the 33rd minute after Mohammed Muntari found space down the left before slipping the ball to Abdel Aziz Hatim, who converted off a rebound from his first attempt.
A counter-attack on the 42nd minute gave India a sniff of a chance. Chhetri, with all his experience, shielded Bassam Alrawi as he found Manvir, whose shot was, however, blocked by a Qatari defender.
Sandhu continued to frustrate Qatar when he kept out Abdelkarim Hassan from close-range in the 47th minute and later Muntari’s snap-shot from inside the box in the 53rd minute.
Qatar had their best chance of the second half with four minutes of regulation time left on the clock, when substitute Abdullah Alahraq rifled a long-ranger onto the near post.
However, the ball ricocheted off the post and went out of play.