There's already a lot of talk about how the match against Oman will be the first real test for Indian football team under the new head coach Igor Stimac. Drawn in Group E, India will face the higher ranked sides Oman and Qatar in the FIFA World Cup 2022 qualifiers apart from playing Afghanistan and Bangladesh. They will begin their campaign against Oman on 5 September at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in Guwahati. Stimac would know that the match is little more than a just real test.
India will face Oman on the back of little to no match practice at all. The two domestic leagues in India have not started yet and Oman are a better team, both rank-wise and skill-wise. Stimac, who succeeded Stephen Constantine, has a very difficult task on his hands. So far, he has been experimenting with the squad at the King's Cup as well at the Intercontinental Cup, where India performed to mixed results.
Thursday's game will present the first real opportunity for Stimac to field his choice of players, the team which he thinks is the core and will mostly feature in the future matches. But the fact remains the first game against Oman could spoil the long-term plans of Stimac. A drubbing in the very first game will hurt the team's composition and players' morale, and it will make things even more difficult when they face World Cup hosts Qatar on 10 September in their next match.
So Stimac has a lot riding on and he'll hope that his players will stick to the plans, not allow Oman to break their team and maybe end up with a decent result.
"Realistically, Qatar and Oman are the favourites in our group. We had never won an official match against either of them. So it's not going to be easy at all. In Guwahati we are going to give everything on the pitch, aiming to win it," Stimac said before the match.
About the group, Stimac said, "I think the group is competitive and is giving us hopes of doing well. After the draw I immediately jumped into my office chair and started the work on Oman and Qatar matches, not thinking for a second about other groups and how easy or tough they are."
Once again, Sunil Chhetri will be the key for this Indian team. It's not just his goal-scoring abilities, but Chhetri also creates chances for the team. His work-rate and the relentlessness to make things happen on the field is second to none and Stimac would want his most influential player to be at his best.
Sahal Abdul Samad and Anirudh Thapa impressed at the Intercontinental Cup, but Stimac has lost another midfielder, Amarjit Singh, to an injury. The youngster has shown maturity and skills to dominate the proceedings, and it will be interesting to see how Stimac replaces him — whether he will go with the experienced Rowllin Borges or with another youngster Vinit Rai. Udanta Singh will, as usual, provide the pace in the wing and either Ashique Kuruniyan or Lallianzuala Chhangte will make the cut in the playing XI.
There are problems in the defence for India. They have leaked as many as 10 goals in the three matches they played in the Intercontinental Cup. Sandesh Jhingan will lead the defence, and either Rahul Bheke or Anas Edathodika will be his partner at the back. If Anas is employed at the back, Stimac will have to choose from Bheke, Mandar Rao Dessai, Subhasish Bose, Pritam Kotal and Nishu Kumar for the two full-backs position.
There's no doubt that the defenders will have their task cut out. Oman, considering their higher quality, will look to attack from the first minute itself. The Indian defenders will have to withstand the early pressure and deny the goal-scoring opportunities. That would frustrate their opponents and India could take advantage on the counter.
Oman are coming into the match without losing a single game under their newly-appointed Dutch coach Erwin Koeman. Unlike the Indian side, Oman played a friendly last week in preparations for the World Cup qualifiers. They defeated Yemen, thanks to the only goal from Ahmed Mubarak Kano. The team has won four of their last five matches, and are in good form.
Kano will, once again, be the midfield mainstay for his team and his game can prove to be the difference between both sides. Apart from him, Abdul Aziz Al Muqbali will have the responsibility of scoring goals and then there's also a young striker in Arshad Al Alawi who can test the Indian defence. In their backline, Saad Al-Mukhaini, also known as Saad Suhail, is a player to watch out for.
There's no denying that Oman will pose plenty of problems to India and they obviously start as favourites. India's chances will depend on their ability to frustrate their opponents and capitalise on the mistakes. A draw could be a good result for India, considering this is the first match of the qualifiers and Indian players lack the match practice, but clinching a victory is not an impossible target. They have to execute their plans to perfection.
The match will start at 7.30 pm IST and will be shown live on TV by Star Sports Network. The match can also be streamed live on Hotstar.
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Updated Date: Sep 05, 2019 09:08:57 IST