An Abdulaziz Hatem goal just past the half-hour mark gave Qatar a comfortable 1-0 win over India in their World Cup cum Asian Cup qualifying match in Doha, on Thursday. India played with 10-men for the vast majority of the match after Rahul Bheke was sent off after receiving a second yellow in the 17th minute.
The initial few minutes of the match set the tone for the rest of it -- Qatar attacking in waves, India digging in deep to try and thwart them. By the end of the match, the shots-on-goal tally read: India, 1; Qatar, 38. That the match ended 1-0 was a result of a combination of things: last-ditch defending, superb goalkeeping, and some farcical finishing.
Bheke's red card further cemented India's approach. He was shown his first yellow in the 9th minute for a shove on Hassan Al Haydos before being shown his second for what the referee adjudged to be an intentional handball as he attempted to stop a cross from flying into the box.
Qatar, though, failed to capitalise on their numerical advantage -- attempting numerous wayward shots from range, with the main culprit being left back Abdelkarim Hassan. This despite the fact that their goal came from intricate play that led to the ball being fed into the box, where after a brief bout of pinball, Hatem was on hand to poke the ball just past Gurpreet Singh Sandhu's outstretched leg. Bheke's dismissal had seen Suresh Singh moved to right back, and the youngster was no match for Abdelkarim's pace and power.
Sandhu was, once again, the star for India. While largely untroubled by the long-rangers, he pulled off a few remarkable reflex saves when Qatar did play their way into more dangerous shooting positions. The pick of the saves was when he denied the indefatigable Abdelkarim with his feet after a flowing Qatari move saw the left-back burst into the six-yard box and take a snapshot at goal.
A late Abdullah Alahraq long-ranger slammed into the woodwork, but that was the closest Qatar got to increasing their lead.
India had their moments on the counter -- most notably when Manvir Singh had two chances. The first was when Ashique Kuruniyan whipped in a lovely cross after a pacy counter, but Manvir couldn't get a clean connection on it. The other was when, after neat play with Sunil Chhetri, he eased past his marker before cutting in and shooting - only to see it blocked quickly.
Chhetri, meanwhile, was replaced at half-time by Udanta Singh, presumably with the forthcoming Bangladesh game playing in the mind of coach Igor Stimac.
India are currently fourth in Group E, a point above Bangladesh and two below Afghanistan. Qatar lead the group with 19 points in seven matches -- the only match they didn't win was the reverse fixture vs India.
India play Bangladesh on June 7 and Afghanistan on June 15 to close the campaign.