—- Should Brandon Fernandes translate his excellent club form to the international stage in Asia’s qualifying for the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar™, India’s chances of reviving their fortunes will be greatly enhanced.

Igor Stimac’s Blue Tigers registered just three points from the opening five outings in the second qualifying round, disappointing results which has them hanging in by a thread in fourth place in an intriguing Group E which also features Qatar, Oman, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. While only a freak series of results will see India revive their Qatar 2022 hopes, they have much to play for with the campaign also doubling as qualifiers for the 2023 AFC Asian Cup.

India, though, can count on the red-hot form of Fernandes to provide some much-needed thrust and drive. Indeed, the diminutive midfielder enters this month’s matches on the back of a hugely successful season with FC Goa in the Indian Super League, where he provided seven assists – the highest among all Indian players – to help his side to the domestic title and seal a maiden appearance in the 2021 AFC Champions League.

He continued his creative form in the club’s Asian debut, setting up two goals, firstly in a 2-1 loss to Persepolis and then in a 1-1 draw against Al Rayyan as Goa finished a respectable third in their group. Now Fernandes has the opportunity to test his ability again on the international stage as Doha hosts this month’s finale to Group E.

“My motive is to give my 100 per cent in every match,” the 26-year-old told FIFA.com in a recent exclusive interview. “We all know what opponents we are facing. But it is must-win scenarios for us and we expect nothing less than the best. Realistically, I hope we can obtain at least six or seven points from the remaining games.

“We have a very good squad, young and energetic. We are doing well under coach Stimac. The mindset is to improve and get better in every session. He has been giving us good support. He tries to guide and motivate us all on and off field.”

Test against the best

India will open against frontrunners Qatar on Thursday, before further outings against Bangladesh and Afghanistan. Having held the Qataris to a goalless draw in the first leg, Fernandes is hoping that they can achieve an even better result against the Asian champions.

“It will be a completely new match, a new day and so we have to give it our best shot if we want a positive outcome. Of course, no match is easy and hence we need to avoid any errors.”

India's Brandon Fernandes walks on the pitch
© Others

Rough diamond

Born in football-hotspot Goa, Fernandes displayed his talents from an early age and was swooped up by Salgaocar as a teenager. He was Player of the Tournament at the 2008 Manchester United Premier Cup – a youth competition conducted by the English giants – helping Salgaocar finish in third place.

The following year he headed for South Africa to link with third division club ASD Cape Town. He spent three seasons with the club’s youth academy with his performances attracting scouts from Europe, although trials at Reading, Leicester City and Sunderland failed to yield a contract.

Despite that disappointment, however, Fernandes continued to make progress with a series of Indian clubs over the ensuing years and his career took off after he joined FC Goa in 2017. Fernandes bloomed at his home club truly establishing himself as one of the country’s most creative players, earning a maiden cap for India at the 2019 Kings Cup in Thailand.

“My major strengths would be creativity and vision,” he said. “These are the things that enable me to exhibit all of my other skills. And my aim going onto the field is to make a difference, and I am confident that I can do that.”

World Cup ambition

While India impressed at the most recent Asian Cup, they have yet to qualify for a World Cup. Fernandes, however, believes they are on track to eventually achieve that dream.

“India’s [current] team has definitely raised the bar in comparison to previous years. With the kind of opportunities and exposure provided to the youth teams, we can see a lot of reason for positivity. I firmly believe that in the coming years we will surely get through the [World Cup] qualifiers.”