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Sunil Chhetri-Less India To Face Qatar In Crucial World Cup Qualifier Match

The influential Sunil Chhetri's absence will be a difficult void to fill as the Indian football team enters a testing transition phase with a crucial FIFA World Cup qualifying match against heavyweights Qatar in Doha on Tuesday. The 39-year-old Chhetri called time on his glorious international career by playing in last week's fixture against Kuwait in Kolkata, which ended in a goal-less draw as the team failed to give him a fitting farewell. Chhetri ended with 94 goals in 151 matches, having led the country with aplomb for more than a decade.

The Indian team will be led by the 32-year-old first-choice goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, who has so far appeared in 72 internationals and is the most experienced player in the 23-member squad after Chhetri's retirement.

An acid test awaits India as they run into two-time Asian champions Qatar at the Jassim bin Hamad Stadium, knowing well that a defeat will end their campaign and dash all hopes of securing a maiden entry into the third round of the World Cup Qualifiers.

India remain in the second spot with five points and a goal difference of -3. Afghanistan, who also played out a 0-0 draw with Qatar in their last outing in Hofuf, Saudi Arabia, are in third spot with a goal difference of -10, the stalemate making the job much more difficult for Igor Stimac's wards.

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

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

India had their first practice in Doha on Sunday evening and are having