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Gurpreet named India captain for World Cup qualifying match against Qatar

The India senior men's team landed in Doha on Saturday night for the match in which a win could pave the way for a maiden entry into the third round of World Cup qualifiers.

Gurpreet named India captain for World Cup qualifying match against Qatar
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Gurpreet Singh during India's World Cup qualifier against Kuwait earlier this month

DOHA: India's first-choice goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu was on Sunday named the captain of the team for the must-win 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifying match against Qatar here.

India will play hosts Qatar in the return fixture at Jassim bin Hamad Stadium on Tuesday.

The India senior men's team landed in Doha on Saturday night for the match in which a win could pave the way for a maiden entry into the third round of World Cup qualifiers.

Head coach Igor Stimac had named a 23-member squad for the fixture.

Apart from Sunil Chhetri, who retired after his last game for the country against Kuwait on Thursday, defenders Amey Ranawade, Lalchungnunga and Subhasish Bose did not travel to Qatar.

Bose was released on his request because of personal reasons.

About Ranawade and Lalchungnunga, Stimac said, "I was happy to have both of them with us. We worked on various aspects of their game for the future. We had a nice talk before we released them and they know which parts of their game they need to grow for the upcoming season.

"I hope both of them will use the time ahead to improve and come back stronger."

As far as the captain's armband is concerned, Stimac mentioned that it was a no-brainer to hand it to Gurpreet.

With 71 caps, the 32-year-old is the most experienced and longest-serving player in the national team after Chhetri's retirement.

"Gurpreet was one of our captains alongside Sunil and Sandesh (Jhingan) for the past five years, so naturally he is the one to take responsibility at this moment," said Stimac.

India's next opponents Qatar, who have already qualified for the third round as group-toppers, have named a largely young squad, with 21 out of their 29 players below the age of 24.

Sandhu has occasionally led the team in the past, especially when Chhetri was absent because of either injury or personal reasons.

Two-time Asian champions Qatar were held goalless by Afghanistan in Hofuf, Saudi Arabia, on Thursday, in a match they dominated but failed to break down the resolute Afghan defence.

"We have watched the Afghanistan versus Qatar game and will work on the attacking transition in the next two days, with a hope to start scoring goals from the chances we create," said Stimac.

India are having their first practice in Doha on Sunday evening before the official training session on Monday at the match venue.

For the Blue Tigers, a win is a must. If they lose against Qatar, they will be eliminated from the qualifiers.

They will then battle in the AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers third round for a place at the 2027 tournament in Saudi Arabia.

But if India beat Qatar, they will be in pole position to qualify for the World Cup qualifiers third round and a direct spot at the Asian Cup thanks to their superior goal difference over Afghanistan.

If India draw against Qatar, they will qualify for the third round only if the match between Kuwait and Afghanistan, which will kick off in Kuwait City two hours after India's match, also ends in a draw.

In that scenario, India will finish second in the group with six points, the same as Afghanistan, but with a better goal difference.

Agencies
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