Qatar Keeps Top Spot Against India in World Cup Qualifiers
Qatar remains the top dog in Group E, in the latest round of the Asian 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers, following the Qatari national team's 1-0 win over India. However, the Asian Champions had to work hard to take the victory as the Indian team's defensive strategy remained steadfast throughout the match.
Neither India's coach Igor Stimac nor Qatar's manager Felix Sanchez thought that the June 3rd match would be a walk in the park. Against a team of Qatar's calibre, the Indian team knew they would be in for a tough game, and after India's performance when the two teams last met at the qualifiers, the Qatari's knew they had to be on their guard. Indeed, the previous match between India and Qatar, though the Arabs dominated the field, ended in a goalless draw. For this latest match, despite having already qualified for the World Cup as hosts, Qatar needed to maintain its top spot in the group standings. A top spot would protect its qualifying position for the 2023 Asian Cup - the first two rounds of the 2022 Asian World Cup qualifiers also double as the opening qualifiers for the Asian Cup. Though out of contention for the World Cup, India still needed a win to secure its place at the 2023 tournament in China. (Other than the eight winners and four best runners-up, decided through the World Cup qualifiers, another 12 teams have the opportunity to win a place at the Asian tournament depending on their current tournament performance).
On the day, the Qatari team piled on the pressure from the starting whistle to the game's final minutes. They dominated the match and took every opportunity to take a shot at the Indian goal. The Indian's, however, played a defensively credible game keeping the Qataris from scoring all but once - something they achieved with only ten men on the field. In the 17th minute, defender Rahul Bheke was shown a red card after a handball outside the box was deemed intentional by the referee. Qatar, who had already made several determined attempts to score, took advantage and sent the ball to the back of the net, off of Abdel Aziz's foot, in the 33rd minute of the game. Buoyed by their success, the Al Annabi Boys took aim at the Indian goal multiple times during the rest of the game but, largely due to the quality skills of Indian goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandu, failed to hit the ball home. Nevertheless, Qatar continued its winning streak at the qualifiers and successfully stretched its lead, now sitting top of the group standings on 19 points.
The Qatari team is a good 7 points ahead of Oman, who sit in second place in the group standings on 12 points with two games in hand. Qatar, who face off against Oman on June 7th, need to avoid defeat against the Omanis to maintain their leading position.
India remains fourth in the standings on 3 points after its clash with Qatar. The team will need to conjure up some good results against Bangladesh on June 7th and Afghanistan on June 15th to stand a good chance of making the 2023 Asian Cup. The Indian's are currently only 2 points behind Afghanistan, who remain in third place despite a recent draw against Bangladesh.
Qatar - Qualifier Hub Host
The remaining matches for Round Two of the joint 2022 World Cup and 2023 Asian Cup qualifiers are being held in eight countries across Asia rather than in the multiple locations and countries, in a home and away format, as planned. Following the many postponements suffered by the Asian qualifiers during the coronavirus pandemic, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) took the decision, to overcome travel and quarantine restrictions obstructing the tournament and ensure the health and safety for all, to hold the outstanding matches in a single centralised location for each group (the forty contesting Asian teams are split into eight groups, A through to H). Member nations were asked to register their interest in becoming hosts for their respective group - Qatar was awarded the hosting rights for Group E. As such, the remaining Group E matches are being held in Doha, under strict health and safety measures, at the Jassim bin Hamad Stadium until June 15th.
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