28-man India football squad to travel to Doha for 2022 WC qualifiers
A 28-member Indian national squad will leave for Doha on Wednesday evening for India's three forthcoming matches in the qualifiers for the 2022 FIFA World Cup and 2023 AFC Asian Cup. The matches are slated to be played from June 3 onwards.
As per the health parameters required to travel to Qatar, all the travelling players and staff have to carry with them negative test results from the RT-PCR tests conducted in the last 48 hours. All of them were also in isolation in the Capital under the bio-bubble at the team hotel from May 15 onwards.
India have struggled to train for the qualifiers amid the deadly second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic in the country. Head coach Igor Stimac said that it is not the "ideal situation" ahead of the qualifiers but the team will be putting in "intense" sessions before their matches get underway.
The Indian players are also lacking game time, with the two friendlies they played last month against the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Oman in late March being the only matches they have played since the end of the Indian Super League earlier that month.
"It's not an ideal situation as we move ahead to the qualifiers in June. Due to the pandemic, our national camp which was slated to begin in Kolkata at the beginning of May had to get cancelled. The pandemic also robbed us of a friendly match in Dubai," said Stimac.
"However, we understand the magnitude of the situation, and it will be intense sessions in Doha to raise the tempo and try to get ready for the matches which starts with the one against the Asian champions Qatar in Doha," he said.
India are scheduled to play Qatar on June 3, Bangladesh on June 7, and Afghanistan on June 15 with all three matches to be played at the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium, Doha. Among the 28 named for the camp, Glan Martins remains the sole player to have made it to a national team camp for the first-time ever.
Meanwhile, captain Sunil Chhetri expressed his relief to get back into the national team set-up. Chhetri had missed the friendlies in March after testing positive for Covid-19.
"It's such a relief to be back in the national team squad -- after all, home is where the heart is. Personally, I am eagerly looking forward to being in Doha. The last time I was in Doha, I couldn't be a part of the match against Qatar owing to illness," said Chhetri.
"The matches in June are extremely tough and we need to take them one at a time. Given the fact that we don't have much time, the preparatory camp will add immense value helping all to gel together, and strike that chord ahead of the first match," he added.
The round of matches is being played in Doha as the original format of home and away matches could not be followed due to the pandemic. India are currently on 3 points from 3 matches in Group E. While they are out of contention to progress in the World Cup qualifiers, they are still within a shot of qualifying for the Asian Cup.