A tactically and physically superior Qatar contingent got the better of Bulpin’s boys, as the Indian colts went down rather meekly in the first leg of their pre-Olympic qualifier at Doha. It was India’s third trip to the Al-Sadd stadium this year, and unfortunately they ended up on a losing note, again.

The match started at a frantic pace with end-to-end football being played by both the teams. India shocked the handful of supporters present at the venue by getting ahead in the 7th minute.  Jeje scored from inside the box due to the inability of Qatar’s backline to clear the long throw-in from Indian skipper Raju Gaikwad; a major weapon for India.

The home team pressed on after going down a goal and were awarded with a rather dubious penalty kick in the tenth minute. Qatar’s captain Hassan al Haidous stepped up to take the kick but much to the horror of the crowd, his weak effort was saved by the Indian keeper Laxmikant Kattimani.

Quarter of an hour into the match, Haidous made up for his missed penalty as he provided a majestic through ball to Al Khalfan, which split the Indian defence wide open. He calmly rounded the Indian keeper to bring Qatar back into the game.

Qatar stepped on the throttle after the equaliser which pegged back the Indian midfield; a midfield that was absent for the best part of ninety minutes. Coached by Frenchman Simondi Bernard, Qatar played a game of short passes whereas Indians were attempting to play long passes. Unfortunately, both the teams lacked composure. Haidous, who started on the right flank switched over to the left and this tactical change sent the Indian back four into a tizzy. Bulpin’s boys looked completely rattled and were not able to match up to the pace of their opponents from the Middle East.

Viva Kerela’s striker Sabeeth had a golden opportunity at the half-an-hour mark but his inability to control the ball at the edge of the box helped Qatar to muster up a scrappy clearance – which became the order of the day. Qatar was going forward but much to the dismay of their supporters most of their crosses were of poor quality.

The game started to open up at the 35th minute with players getting tired after their initial burst of energy. Seven of the starting eleven for India were from Indian Arrows, but looking at the co-ordination (or lack of it) between the team on the pitch, it would be hard to say that most of these boys have played an entire season in the i-league together.

While Qatar was enjoying the lion’s share of possession, attacks arriving from the Indian side were few and far between.  The fact that the closest the Indian colts came to scoring a second was from an uncomfortable collection of Gaikwad’s long throw by Qatar’s shot stopper Saad Al Sheeb speaks volumes about the lack of communication between the Indian midfield and forwards.

Both the sides went into the half-time with the score line of a goal a piece. The half-time break seemed to have worked wonders only for the home team as they started off with a new found intent and aggression. Al Ansari had the first chance for the hosts in the second half as he sold a dummy to Gaikwad only to shoot over the crossbar as he was leaning back while taking the shot.

Haidous proved yet again why he was considered  by the Indians as their biggest threat as he took a shot from 35 yards which swirled into the back of the Indian goal to give Qatar the lead in the 54th minute. The shot came out of the blue but the Indian keeper should have done better as there was not much power behind the shot.

Indian goal was getting bombarded with shots and a couple of minutes later Ansari took a long ranger from 25 yards which, luckily for India, went straight into the gloves of Kattimani. The Qatar striker was set up again at the hour mark by their captain, but much to the relief of the visitors, his left foot shot went well wide of the Indian goal.

Meanwhile, at the other end, India was only able to threaten their opponents from long throws which were pelted in by their captain Gaikwad, which was the only offensive weapon India had up their sleeves.

In the 67th minute, Indian dead ball specialist Ralte made way into the referee’s book after his studs up challenge on Haidous.

Ansari should have made it three goals for Qatar in the 69th minute, but it was not his day as his attempt for an easy tap-in from close range only managed to find the crossbar. The Indian defence was at sixes and sevens as the ball continued to hover around their box. Another chance presented itself for Bernard’s men and this time around substitute Mohamed Elnee did not fail to score from 8 yards as he tapped in the third goal for the hosts which all but sealed their victory.

 

The Englishman has a lot on his plate for the return leg

It was getting obvious from the body language of the visitors that they were content with just a single away goal as they showed no intent to score in the second period. Although they did come close to snatching a goal back ten minutes from time, when Mondal headed a set play taken by Ralte but his weak attempt did not cause any concern to Qatar’s keeper, who was playing with much more confidence in the second half.

The Dempo SC keeper kept Indians alive in the tie as he made a remarkable reflex save from point blank range in the last minute of injury time. This meant that the match ended 3-1 in favour of the hosts as Qatar showed a lot of character by winning the first leg of the Olympic qualifier after suffering an early setback.

India will feel that all is not lost as they walked away with a precious away goal and would have all to play for, during the return leg in Pune on Thursday. How the midfield of India will shape up will ultimately decide the return leg at the Balewadi stadium and after looking at the team India’s display at the centre of the pitch, it can be said with an ease that Mr. Desmond Bulpin has his task cut out for the second leg of the qualifier.

Player of the Match: Hassan al Haidous (Qatar)

Qatar’s skipper was the difference between the two teams as India’s attempts to contain the twenty year-old turned futile. The match did not start on a bright note for Haidous as he missed a penalty in the 10th minute which would have brought Qatar on level terms after India had taken the lead through Jeje Lalpekhlua. The midfielder switched flanks immediately after his missed opportunity and looked like an altogether different player. After just five minutes, he picked up an assist when he provided a cutting pass to Al Khalfan which helped Qatar to restore parity in the match.

He was one of the three players who had featured for Qatar in January at the 2011 Asian Cup and fully utilised his experience of playing at the highest level. He was labelled as the “go-to” man for Qatar, a role which he justified completely during the first leg.

Haidous was always able to find acres of space amongst the non-existent Indian midfield and was either shooting or providing assists at will. He was rewarded for his hard work early in the second half as his scorcher of a kick from 35 yards gave Qatar a much deserved lead. The hosts continued to press on, riding on his sublime form and were able to go up by two goals with twenty minutes left on the clock. Haidous, by far, looked the most comfortable player with the ball at his feet and had it not been for some poor finishing by the forwards in front of him, the scoreline would have been even more embarrassing for the Indians.

India needs to find a way to shackle Qatar’s majestic skipper in Pune, or else, they can kiss their chances goodbye.

Goal scorers: Jeje Lalpekhlua (India)7′ , Al Khalfan (Qatar) 15′, Hassan Al Haidous (Qatar) 54′,  Mohammed El Neel (Qatar) 70′