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Soft surface will be India's ally

Nandakumar Marar

BALEWADI: India's biggest ally against Qatar's short-passing game in the under-23 pre-Olympic football qualifier first round home leg will be the soft ground conditions at the Balewadi Sports Complex, near Pune.

Rain showers over the past week will force the visitor to adopt a more practical approach when the ball skids off the surface, reducing the reliance on slick passing and focusing on the direct route to the goal.

Qatar had put pressure on India with waves of passes along the carpet in the first leg at Al Sadd stadium, winning 3-1 on the strength of a commanding midfield performance.

The technical superiority when in possession of the ball will ensure Qatar's grip over the match even here, the only difference being the difficulty the visitor will face when drilling holes in the opponent defence using their passing game.

Familiar surface

The Indian defence and forwards can operate more freely due to familiarity with the surface where it had numerous training sessions and preliminary matches. The home team can breach the Qatari formation using Raju Gaikwad's long throw-ins.

The Indian captain's throw is no longer a surprise weapon, and hence set-piece moves via headers from unmarked players or first-time volleys off defensive clearances are the fastest ways to capitalise on Qatari mistakes.

Jeje Lalpeklua's seventh-minute goal off a Gaikwad throw-in at Al Sadd stadium and goalkeeper Laxmikant Kattimani's penalty save later had kept India in the hunt for goals in the first leg till the breather, before the Qatari's came into their own with a polished second half display.

Hasan Al Haidous's stunning goal from long range, after missing a penalty in front of home fans, was a flash of brilliance. Haidous's range of vision and ball touch enabled him to set up his team's first goal with a through pass to Al Khalfan.

Better prepared

Only this time, under Coach Desmond Bulpin's guidance and after post-match video analysis, India will be better prepared for the breakaways on a different sort of surface demanding quicker reaction and minimum mistakes.

Covering up a 1-3 deficit is tough for any team at the international level.

The second leg on Thursday will force the Qatar team to be more careful and deliberate its build-up, knowing fully well that letting in an early goal would make India more determined.

The match will be telecast live on TEN Action Plus (kick-off time is 7 p.m.).

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