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Anirudh Thapa: Result against Qatar marked a revolution in Indian football

The midfielder discussed how the Indian team approached the game against Qatar on the back of a 2-1 defeat against Oman…

Exactly a year back, on September 10, 2019, India held Qatar to a goalless draw away from home in a 2022 World Cup qualifier. It was a monumental result for the Blue Tigers as the Asian champions had been near unstoppable at home in 2019 and had not dropped points until that game. 

India, on the other hand, was travelling after a narrow 2-1 defeat at home to Oman. The odds were against the Blue Tigers but Igor Stimac’s men dug deep and defended resolutely to prevent the likes of Almoez Ali and Hassan Al Haydos from scoring past Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, who himself played brilliantly throughout the 90 minutes and made numerous saves. 

India international Anirudh Thapa, who started in that match against Qatar, revealed various behind-the-scene anecdotes in the build-up to the game that he believes has brought in a revolution in Indian football. 

“Against Oman, we gave them two chances and they took the game away from us. But we believed in ourselves. There were talks that we did not play well, and it was actually true. The coach (Igor Stimac) kept motivating us. He spoke to us and said that we can’t afford to look back and we should prove everyone wrong. In the training sessions, everyone was motivated.

“Surprisingly, the coach took us out for dinner before the game. That had never happened before. But it was a good thing. He told us to enjoy that time and forget about the game. We unwinded ourselves and from that moment everything changed,” said the midfielder in an online chat session hosted by the AIFF (All India Football Federation). 

India vs Qatar

Thapa accepted that they were under pressure to perform but the players did not succumb to it and instead thrived on it.

“When we were standing in the tunnel, we looked at each other and felt a positive vibe amongst the players. That helped a lot in the 90 minutes. Yes, there was pressure but we gave our all. 

“During halftime, the coach said that we did the first part of our job by defending well. But we also needed to move forward. He was telling Sahal (Sahal Samad) to move up along with Udanta (Singh). Sahal did a good job in the second half and in fact, we got our chances as well. Things could have been different if we had taken those. Most importantly, we did not make any mistake and with Jhingan (Sandesh Jhingan) and Gurpreet (Gurpreet Singh Sandhu) playing so well, we got a positive result,” commented the Chennaiyin FC midfielder. 

He feels although Qatar respected them, the heavyweights did not expect the Indian team to play so valiantly. 

“Qatar was shocked. They were not expecting that. Xavi (Xavi Hernandez) was there in the stands and he was also shocked. They attacked from all positions. What we did at their home ground, no one could do that (in that season). It’s not that they did not respect us, but they did not expect us to play like the way we did. It will be called the Indian football revolution. It helped us realise our true potential,” commented the 22-year-old. 

Thapa is set to continue to don the colours of Chennaiyin FC in the upcoming Indian Super League (ISL).  He opines that it will be a unique experience to play without fans in the stadium and they have to be more careful as the viewers will get to hear what the players say to each other during the match. 

“It will be fun. The viewers will get to know what players are saying on the pitch. It might be a bit embarrassing. They can hear our own voices and the coaches shouting from the sidelines. It will be interesting as all the teams will be in one city. But we will miss the fans. It is always great to have fans and without them, it will be difficult,” he signed off.

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