Oman get the better of India with late double in WC qualifier
Guwahati: It was a familiar story for team India as they succumbed to another defeat despite playing better for the majority of the game against Oman in the first 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifier match at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium here in Assam.
Talismanic captain Sunil Chhetri gave India the lead in the 24th minute and the men in blue were in control throughout the first 45 minute. However, two quick-fire double in the last eight minutes gave Oman all three points as India conceded late goals yet again.
India started on the front foot taking the game to Oman and trying to score an early goal. India came close on a few occasions in the opening 15 minute.
First was when Chhetri slipped in a delightful ball for Udanta Singh on the right. The Manipuri winger made a yard of space and hit the ball firmly but only for it to smash the crossbar and come back into play. The Omani defense quickly cleared the danger.
Soon after, India received a corner kick on Oman’s left side. The well timed ball found India’s rock at the back Sandesh Jhingan, who was making a nuisance of himself in the opposition six-yard box. Jhingan slipped his marker to reach the ball first but his header went over the bar.
Soon India got the goal they were trying for and it was straight out of the training ground. Oman conceded a free kick on the right side of their penalty box. With over five Indian players including Chhetri and Sandesh Jhingan waiting in line around the edge of the six-yard box, Omani defense was expecting a lopped delivery.
But taking Oman by surprise, Brandon Fernandes took the kick low slotting it straight into the path of Chhetri, who had peeled off from his marker. Without breaking his stride, the Indian legend smashed the ball into the Omani net with his left foot.
Before anyone in the Red shirt of Oman could react, their goalkeeper was picking the ball up from the net. It took Chhetri only 24 minutes to score his 72th international goal on his 112th match.
India kept up the pressure but Oman soon found a foothold in the match. They started making some good moves. The Omanis put in a few well-timed crosses into the Indian box but to no avail.
India had to thank goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, who denied Ahmed Mubarak Al-Mahaijri’s header at point blank range to keep the score in the Blue Tiger’s favour.
As the first half came to an end, India looked more likely to win the match rather than trying to snatch at least one valuable point with a draw.
Rowllin Borges shined in the Makelele position shielding the defense, plugging the holes and keeping the pressure off of center backs Sandesh Jhingan and Adil Khan.
Upfront, Ashique Kuruniyan took his free role behind Chhetri brilliantly popping up here, there and everywhere confusing the Omani defenders. He was ably helped by Anirudh Thapa dictating the play from deep.
Ranked 103 going into the match, India has never defeated Oman who are on the 87th spot, in a FIFA World Cup Qualifier match.
In the second half, Oman coach Erwin Koeman replaced Raed Ibrahim Saleh with Muhsen Al-Ghassani trying to create an attacking impact.
India had a heart in mouth moment as Anirudh Thapa sliced a clearance from a corner kick just over the crossbar. Though he could not get a touch on the ball even at full stretch, Goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu was as much relieved as the majority of the people inside the stadium that watched the ball go out for a goal kick.
Rowllin Borges was given a yellow card in the 58th minute trying to illegally stop an Oman counter attack.
Two minutes later, India coach Igor Štimac brought in Lallianzuala Chhangte for Brandon Fernandes in a move to inject some more pace to the Men in Blue’s attack.
After an hour of play, India were trying to defend Oman attacks packing numbers behind the ball and trying to hit the men in red on the counter. Ashique Kuruniyan was the furthest man forward for India with Lallianzuala Chhangte and Udanta Singh always willing to attack any space left behind the Oman defense through the wings.
Erwin Koeman made his second change by replacing Salaah Al-Yahyaei with Mohammed Al Ghafri in the 69th minute.
Indian goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu again made a brilliant save making the best of his 6-foot 6-inch frame to block another powerful shot from Oman. Left back Rahul Bheke reacted quickest to smash the ball clear before Omani forwards near the penalty spot could take advantage of the rebound.
Igor Štimac soon made a sensible change replacing Ashique Kuruniyan, who had run his socks off, with manvir Singh. It’s a like for like substitution replacing a forward with another in the 78th minute.
Oman soon started to make the most of India’s shaky defense. In the 82 minute, Rabia Said Al Alawi Al Mandhar brought Oman level with a well-timed run behind the Indian defense.
As India tried to play offside, Al Mandhar got away from Rahul Bheke and got on the end of a long ball over the top. Even before Gurpreet Singh Sandhu could do anything, the Omani number 15 chipped the ball over and into the Indian net.
The goal gave Oman a lot of confidence and they soon started threatening. The Omanis began to find pockets of space in the Indian defense and only a last ditch effort from Sandesh Jhingan, who put his body on the line, denied Oman their second goal.
Oman did not have to wait long as Rabia Said Al Alawi Al Mandhar’s brilliant individual effort down the left hand side ended in a goal in the 90th minute.
Al Mandhar easily got the better of Rahul Bheke and was one-on-one with Sandesh Jhingan inside the Indian penalty box. The Omani left winger dropped his shoulder and sold a dummy to the Indian center back before beating Gurpreet Singh Sandhu with a right footed rocket into the top corner.
In an all-out effort, Štimac sacrificed left back Subhasish Bose for Keralite attacking midfielder Sahal Abdul Samad to try and level the score. Despite the crowd urging them forward, India did not have enough left in their tank to grab a late equalizer.
Oman, who were not even in the picture in the entire first half, found a way through a tiring Indian defense. Two smash and grab goals got them the three points as it was again a disappointing start for India.
The men in blue will not be happy with the result as manager Igor Štimac rightly said, “it is a shame that we did not take anything from the match. We were in a good position to take all three points but two mistakes late in the second half and we lost everything.”
But it was not all doom and gloom for the Blue Tigers who have plenty of positives to take into the coming matches. Even Oman coach Erwin Koeman said that India deserved better for their performance.
Despite coming out empty handed, Stimac said he could not have asked for anything more from his players. The Croatian appreciated his players for their work ethic and admitted that the team was still a work in progress.
Speaking to media after the match, captain Sunil Chhetri said that the boys played well but should have done better in the second half individually and collectively.
India will take on 62nd ranked Qatar in their next match at Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium in Doha on September 10. As Chhetri said, it will the toughest match for India in the entire campaign.