The Blue Tigers’ defensive unit feels that “coming away with clean sheets” will be of paramount importance when they play two back-to-back matches away against Afghanistan and Oman in the next joint 2022 FIFA World Cup/2023 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers within six days.
“Maintaining clean sheets will be of paramount importance in order to stay alive in the race of the World Cup Qualifiers. We will need to be sharper in the absence of Sandesh-bhai (Jhingan),” fullback Subhasish Bose maintained.
“The team is upbeat. We will leave no stone unturned to make the most out of the remaining games. We were able to do the same against Qatar. If we play to our true potential, there’s no reason not to repeat it against Afghanistan and Oman again,” he added.
India are scheduled to face Afghanistan in Dushanbe, Tajikistan on November 14 from where they fly to Muscat to face Oman five days later, on November 19.
Anas Edathodika, the seasoned defender, who paired with Adil Khan at the heart of the defence against Bangladesh, sounded optimistic about the “defensive solidarity” that the Blue Tigers have shown so far.
“There are no easy games at the International level but we have shown defensive solidarity so far. We have to continue to believe in ourselves. We really need to get some good results in the next two games and all that starts with our performance at the back.”
“In Asian Cup qualifiers last time, we had three consecutive clean sheets. It always makes your job easier to win a match if you can come out with a clean sheet. If we can maintain our shape and hold the defensive line as per our plans, we can pull it off against them,” the experienced campaigner explained.
The Blue Tigers had secured three back-to-back wins against Myanmar (in Yangon), Kyrgyz Republic (in Bengaluru) and Macau (in Taipei) which secured their qualification to the continental championship. Moreover, India showed their defiance time and again to pull off some significant results in the Hero Intercontinental Cup 2018, and the SAFF Suzuki Cup 2018.
Meanwhile, Sandesh Jhingan, who injured himself in Guwahati prior to the last qualifying match against Bangladesh, will be missed at the heart of the defence but others are ready to take up the mantle now.
“We will miss Sandesh, but the others need to step up and shoulder the responsibility now. All players are currently playing in the Hero Indian Super League and so it shouldn’t be the same problem,” centreback Adil Khan mentioned.
While India conceded two quick goals against Oman in the opening fixture of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 qualifying campaign, they were able to secure a clean sheet against reigning Asian champions Qatar in Doha five days later. In the latest match, Bangladesh breached the Indian defence once before Adil Khan blasted the back of the net to send the entire VYBK Stadium into delirium.
Rahul Bheke, who was deployed as the right full-back, felt these two will be the “game of nerves”, when they go out onto the pitch to face Afghanistan and Oman in a gap of five days.
“It’s an uphill task for us. But we have to inspire and motivate ourselves with the performance that we put up against Qatar. It is going to be a game of nerves for us,” Bheke stated.
In the first leg, India led against Oman for 80-odd minutes, before the gulf nation changed the complexion of the game quickly to take the game from the hosts in Guwahati on September 5.
However, Pritam Kotal felt India “gave a good account” of their game and the Blue Tigers are capable to turn the table in Muscat.
“Yes, they got better of us in Guwahati but we gave a good account of ourselves that day. We are confident of our capabilities and if we can play to our potential and hold our shape as per the coach’s plans, we can swing it in our way.”
Mandar Rao Dessai added: “These next two matches are going to very crucial in the context of qualifying for the next round. The defence will of course, be the cornerstone of our game. We need to be focussed throughout as both sides possess some real quality in attack.”