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regular-article-logo Sunday, 21 July 2024

India play victim card but March loss sealed fate  

All they can do is cry hoarse over Qatar's equaliser. But then, the situation would not have come to this point if Igor Stimac's men had logged at least four points out of a possible six in the double-header against Afghanistan in March

Angshuman Roy Calcutta Published 13.06.24, 11:19 AM
Coach Igor Stimac on Tuesday.

Coach Igor Stimac on Tuesday. Reuters picture

Laid low by a controversial goal against Qatar in Doha on Tuesday, India failed to qualify for the third round of the 2026 World Cup Qualifiers.

Had they made it to the third round, India would have rubbed shoulders with the top teams of the continent. But now all they can do is cry hoarse over Qatar's equaliser. But then, the situation would not have come to this point if Igor Stimac's men had logged at least four points out of a possible six in the double-header against Afghanistan in March.

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The goalless first-leg in Saudi Arabia — Afghans were playing their home matches in the desert country — followed by the shocking 2-1 loss in Guwahati had literally ended India's hopes of making it to the third round. India finished third in Group A behind Qatar and Kuwait with five points from six matches.

"In hindsight, yes. That defeat was a telling blow," Shabbir Ali, the former India captain and now a technical committee member of the All India Football Federation, said on Wednesday.

The controversial goal happened like this. In the 73rd minute, Abdullah Alahrak's free-kick saw Yousef Ayem attempt a header, which was saved by India skipper and goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu.

But as the custodian lay on the ground seeing the ball roll over the line, Hashmi Hussein kicked it into play with Aymen slotting it into the net.

Since the ball had visibly rolled out of play, the game should have stopped and then resumed with a corner-kick in this case as Sandhu was the last player to come in contact with the ball before it went out.

But, to the frustration of the Indian players, the referee awarded the goal to Qatar and despite the visiting team protesting vehemently, the on-field official upheld his decision.

According to Fifa rules, "the ball is out of play if it is wholly passed over the goal line or touchline on the ground or in the air."

Qatar's Ahmed Aledin (jersey No. 5) pulls back the ball from what looks like over the byline as India captain and goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu (on the ground) and Ahmed Al-Rawi look on during the World Cup Qualifiers

Qatar's Ahmed Aledin (jersey No. 5) pulls back the ball from what looks like over the byline as India captain and goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu (on the ground) and Ahmed Al-Rawi look on during the World Cup Qualifiers

Understandably, Stimac fumed after the match. "...that goal changed everything in this game" he said. "You don't just need the hook but the crook as well!" an upset captain Gurpreet Singh Sandhu wrote on X.

The AIFF also sought an investigation into the goal allowed by South Korean referee Kim Woo-Sung.

"We have written to FIFA Head of Qualifiers, AFC Head of Referees, and the match commissioner, regarding the grave supervision error that practically cost us a place in the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers Round 3.

"We have urged them to explore the possibilities of sporting compensation to address the injustice," AIFF president Chaubey said in a statement.

But then India wrote their script in the last week of March and the men who matter in Indian football are not talking about it.

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