2022 World Cup qualifiers: An arduous test awaits Igor Stimac's India as they gear up to tour Qatar amid pandemic - Happy Boss

Happy Boss

Wednesday, 12 May 2021

2022 World Cup qualifiers: An arduous test awaits Igor Stimac's India as they gear up to tour Qatar amid pandemic


The Blue Tigers are set to travel to Qatar to play World Cup qualifiers amid coronavirus pandemic...

The Indian national football team is all set to play their first competitive match since November 2019, as they travel to Qatar to play their remaining three matches of the 2022 World Cup qualifiers.

The Blues Tigers are set to play against hosts Qatar on June 3, Afghanistan on June 7 and Bangladesh on June 11. India are currently fourth on the points table and from the remaining fixtures, they will hope to collect as many points as possible and finish third so that they can seal automatic qualification for the 2023 Asian Cup qualifying third round.

Igor Stimac's men will be travelling to Qatar amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and it will be a herculean task for both the team as well as the All India Football Federation (AIFF) to assemble a squad on short notice especially when the second wave of the Coronavirus has hit India severely.

India's challenges ahead of World Cup qualifiers

The Croatian coach's biggest headache is to select and assemble a fully fit squad for the qualifiers. Except for FC Goa and Bengaluru FC players, who took part in the AFC Champions League and AFC Cup qualifiers respectively in April, most of the Indian players last played in February or March

As a result, instead of choosing the squad solely on merit, Stimac now has to make do with the fittest possible players available.

The Indian squad that will be selected will get limited practice sessions before taking the field against giants Qatar. As lockdown has been imposed in several parts of India, it is not possible for the AIFF to arrange for training sessions of the team in India before they travel.

The following measures are implemented for travellers coming from India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and the Philippines, whether they are travelling through direct flight or via other countries (transit), which include:​

  • All passengers whose original flight is from the said countries are subject to mandatory COVID-19 PCR Test done 48 hours before departure from the testing centres approved by their local health authority. Knowing that no one can board the flight to Qatar without a valid Negative PCR certificate.
  • All arrivals from those countries must undergo (10) days quarantine in a dedicated quarantine facility, or (14) days if quarantined at Mekhaines facility.
  • Home quarantine criteria is not applicable for travelers coming from these countries, including the exemptions due to vaccination or recovery from a previous infection with the virus during the past six months.
  • All arrivals from those countries must undergo a repeat COVID-19 PCR test at the quarantine facility within one day of arrival. Knowing that the PCR test will be repeated during and before the end of the quarantine period. ​​
  • All passengers transiting through Qatar must have the mandatory pre-travel PCR test as mentioned in point 1, and in case they require another PCR test for their onward destination, they can have it at Hamad International Airport on a standard fee of QAR 300/- per test.​

With such a hectic protocol to follow, it is possible that Stimac may get only three to four days of training before India face the hosts.

From the footballers' point of view, the 2020/21 season of the Indian Super League (ISL) has already been a very hectic campaign as they had to remain inside a bio-bubble for nearly six months. For players of FC Goa and Bengaluru FC, the period got extended by another month.

And again as national duty beckons, the players will now once again have to enter a bubble for one more month. And most footballers have not had the chance to train properly for the last month or so. 

India's journey so far in the Qualifiers

India started their journey with a narrow 2-1 defeat at the hands of Oman at home followed by a historic goalless draw against Asian champions Qatar in Doha. In their third and fourth matches, the Blue Tigers managed 1-1 draws against Bangladesh and Afghanistan respectively and then they suffered a 1-0 defeat against Oman away from home.

India's recent results

In March, India travelled to Dubai, UAE to take on Oman and the hosts in two friendly matches. On March 25, India held Oman to a 1-1 draw but faced a 6-0 drubbing at the hands of UAE on March 29.

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