From a distance, the first view of the Al Sadd Stadium was stunning. Striker Jeje Lalpeklua and goalkeeper Laxmikant Kattimani just couldn’t stop admiring it as the car passed by the stadium en route to the pre-match press conference. “It’s a replica of the Old Trafford,” Jeje uttered. “So we play at the Old Trafford,” Kattimani added. All in the car smiled.
“We will play to win,” Jeje went further and commented in the press conference.
Coach Desmond Bulpin echoed the same sentiment but added a cautious note to it: “Qatar are a more technically equipped side than us. But we are here to play pressing football. With some luck we may have a positive result too.”
“I won’t say, we will win but we will play for a win.”
If Bulpin was cautious, Qatar’s French coach Simondi Bernard was over-aggressive. “Mr. Bulpin has the right to say anything. He is free to say whatever he wants to;” there was arrogance; there was attitude.
For a team which has trained in Spain for more than a month for Sunday’s match, he could afford it. For the record, Qatar’s U-23 team drew with Real Madrid ‘B’ team 1-1; beat Getafe 1-0 and routed Malaysia 4-0 in the three Friendlies so far.
Midfielder Fadi Omar, in any case wasn’t willing to go overboard. “India are a tough team. I know it because they almost beat us the last time,” he referred to Qatar’s 2-1 victory in the Guangzhou Asian Games; a match which most of the Indian boys haven’t been able to overcome so far.
“We were leading till the 80th minute. Had we converted the chances that came our way, we could have finished it off much earlier,” midfielder Jewel Raja Sheikh said.
The worry for India lies in the fact that captain Raju Eknath Gaikwad stays a doubtful starter. “Raju twisted his ankle during practice in the Pune Camp. We are yet to take a decision,” Bulpin added. Physio Vishnu Krishnan Nair has been working with Raju since then and there have been signs of improvement.
“I won’t mind a draw,” Bulpin maintained. “It’s our away-match and we would like to score.”
The sentiment in Doha stays Qatar should have a cakewalk and whispers were heard about a 5-0 victory. For the record, Hussain Yasser stays the only player to play abroad from Qatar’s U-23 side.
Amidst all these, Bulpin banks on Indian support from the stands. “We would hope for support as there are a lot of Indians in Doha. I would want them to come in large numbers,” Bulpin opined.
There have been a lot of requests for tickets from NRIs based in Doha as well as local Indian Associations who have been posing with the boys for family albums.
Long after the boys had finished their lunch, Kattimani stayed seated on his table. “The match in the Asian Games just keeps coming back to me. We should have won it,” he echoed Jewel’s sentiment. The match is the driving force for Bulpin’s boys at the moment.
The kick-off is slated for 19.15 local time (21.45 IST | 18.15 CET | 17.15 GMT).
(AIFF Press Release)