Thapa hoping for an improved show against Qatar

Midfielder Anirudh Thapa is positive about India's chances against Qatar on Tuesday. File photo

It wasn't the script that Igor Stimac had in mind as India, despite being in control for the majority of the first period, crashed to a 1-2 defeat to Oman in the first FIFA World Cup Group E qualifier last week. Both the goals were conceded after 80 minutes, exposing the hosts' defensive frailties at Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in Guwahati.

The Gulf side were always the favourite going into the clash, but expectations were high among the Indian fans, who eagerly waited to see the changes the Croatian had brought into the side. And for the first 45 minutes, they weren't disappointed, with the Blue Tigers playing short, quick passes and rotating possession to tire the opposition. The supporters' joy went through the roof when skipper Sunil Chhetri put India ahead.

The midfield pair of Anirudh Thapa and Rowllin Borges were involved in everything good that India did. Thapa and Borges complemented each other. Thapa kept things ticking for India upfront while Borges did well to protect the backline. The understanding between the two was evident as India showed plenty of promise. 

"I think we deserved more, at least a point for the first half. We dominated the first half. We created many chances and could have killed the game in the first half," Stimac lamented after the match.

On Tuesday in Doha, India will be up against 2022 World Cup hosts Qatar, who are outright favourites. It's a daunting challenge, but it gives Stimac a chance to iron out the chinks. Also, a lot will be expected from Thapa, who has become a vital figure in the Croatian's set-up.

Stimac's possession-based style of play, with focus on building up from the back, almost paid dividends against Oman, until fatigue coupled with a lapse in concentration in latter stages undid all the good work. “I like the style that he wants us to play," said a confident Thapa.

“He wants us to keep the ball and build-up from behind. He wants us to play with it till the 90th minute. That works for me because it suits my style. I like to keep the ball, move and pass the ball. It’s a plus point for me.”

Much has been said about Thapa’s promising partnership in the midfield with fellow youngster Sahal Abdul Samad, who came in as a late substitute against Oman, and had little time to make an impact. Given the result, the Indian coach may tinker with the starting XI against Qatar. 

“Sahal is better at dribbling and has a lot of skills. It’s a plus point for the team because we know if he can hold the ball, we can make a run. It’s just that we need to understand the situation. We need to tell players if you do this just let me know so that I know what to do next. It’s all about the combination and understanding between the players,” Thapa remarked.

Despite the disheartening start, Thapa is positive about India's chances of making it to the next stage. “Our main focus will be to add as many points as we can against whoever we play. If we get more points and if we do what the coach wants us to do, we will be there. If we do that, we will do better. We just to need to keep the focus,” he said.

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