Balewadi Stadium, Pune
June 23, 2011; 7:00 PM IST – Live on Ten Actions

Despite a bright start, India’s first leg match against Qatar in pre-Olympics ended in disappointment. Desmond Bulpin’s boys took an early lead through a Jeje Lalpekhlua goal. Minutes later Qatar was awarded a penalty after a clumsy challenge from Arnab Mandal. Laxmikant Kattimani pulled off a brilliant save to deny Qatar captain Al Haidous. At that point it looked like this was India’s day. However, whatever dreams Indian fans harbored were dashed when Al Khalfan slotted in the equalizer from a delightful through ball by skipper Al Haidous. A

s the match progressed Indian players were slowly getting tired and losing the ball frequently. After half-time it was all Qatar as they dominated from start to finish. A bolt from the blue by Al Haidous put Qatar 2-1 up while El Neel drove the final nail in India’s coffin. The match ended 3-1 to Qatar but it could have been worse for India had Kattimani and the bar-post not came to their rescue in the injury time. The result in first-leg makes India’s job in Pune all the more difficult. A 2-0 victory will guarantee progression but it looks highly unlikely.

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The performance against Qatar is bound to give headaches to Desmond Bulpin. India’s midfield was non-existent for most of the match. Both Jewel Raja and Shilton were off colour in center of the park while Jibon and Lalrindika’s runs down the flanks were usually insipid. Jeje often got into dangerous positions but Sabeeth rarely complimented him properly. In defense Raju Gaikwad was the lone ranger as Arnad Mandal looked very shaky.

Jeje scored India’s only goal in Qatar

Worst aspect of India’s performance was the one dimensional style of play which plagued the senior team in Houghton’s era. When India was leading by a goal the midfielder and defenders preferred to launch high balls towards strikers rather than keeping possession. The physically imposing Qataris easily cleared these long balls as India ended up meekly surrendering possession. The only time India looked like scoring a goal was during Raju Gaikwad’s lethal throw-ins.

Bulpin might have to do some chopping and changing in his current team if India has to turn the tables on Qatar. Two possible changes might be the more experienced pair of Snehashis Chakrabarty and MP Zakir in midfield. Mathematically, the tie is still delicately poised and India’s best chance is to grab an early goal and play attacking football. Desmond Bulpin needs to field an attacking formation which will properly utilize the strengths of his players.

Only positive for team India from the trip to Qatar is the vital away goal. In the press conference, Bulpin admitted that a tough job awaits the young Indian brigade when they will take on Qatar for the return leg at Balewadi. “That (away goal) is a cushion, but we cannot rest on that. Qatari team is well above us in rankings and are very fit, athletic and technically sound,”- the coach did not sound too confident in the press conference.”

“We should really look at what is on immediate platter. We have a goal—to win 2-0—but that is no way a simple task. They (Qatar) will have to play real bad for us to beat them,” Bulpin went on to add.

The two coaches with Indian captain Raju Gaekwad in the press conference
(Image courtesy Sundar Iyer)


Against India Qatar’s most impressive player was captain Hassan Al Haidous. He messed up the penalty kick but more than made up for it with a brilliant assist and an even better second goal. He kept spraying passes towards the wingers and strikers and completely nullified Indian midfield. French manager Bernard Simondi has drilled his team well to play possession based football. After getting an early jolt from Jeje’s goal and a missed penalty, Qatar U23 team slowly took control of the match by keeping the ball. They also have superior fitness levels as they became more and dominant as the match wore on.

Defender Murad Naji was a tower of strength at the back. During first thirty minutes the Qatari ‘keeper often looked unsure when dealing with Raju’s looping throws. Naji often rose to the challenge in these circumstances – making timely clearances. Striker Abdul Aziz Al Ansari was a constant threat upfront and especially targeted Arnab Mandal – forcing him to lose possession on multiple occasions. However, Al Ansari was also guilty of fluffing two gilt edged chances which could have increased Qatar’s lead further.

When asked about his team’s secret behind playing an eye-catching brand of football, Qatar’s French coach Bernard Simondi explained – “We practiced a lot by playing friendlies against gulf countries and then went to Madrid for a fortnight-long training. That really helped us put together a team of this caliber.” However Simondi sounded worried about the playing condition in Balewadi turf which has witnessed intermittent spell sof rain in last couple of days. “Since we arrived only this morning, the players are all tired from journey, and since we will get just one session to practice, it might be little difficult to adjust, but that should not be an excuse,”- Simondi went on to add.

TheHardTackle’s Players To Watch Out For:

Jeje Lalpekhlua (India)

Hassan Al Haidous (Qatar)

TheHardTackle’s Prediction:

India 1-1 Qatar