Indian football team will begin their FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign with a crucial home fixture against Oman in Guwahati on September 5.
India, part of Group E of the second stage of qualifying from Asia, is clubbed with Asian champions Qatar, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Oman. Since Qatar are the hosts of the 2022 edition of the World Cup, a second-place finish in the group would guarantee automatic progress to the next stage of qualification for India. That adds to the stakes for the home match against Oman, which is the second highest ranked side in the group.
India, playing at home, would be keen to get a point at least from the outing, if not an outright victory. But they have the weight of history against them. The hosts have never won against Oman in a FIFA-recognised match.
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To add to the head-to-head disparity, Igor Stimac’s men have not had an ideal build-up into the campaign opener. The players are in the middle of the great Indian football off-season, which could see many of them off the boil as far as match sharpness is concerned. In addition, the team — playing XI and combinations to be exact — is yet to settle down under the new coach.
Stimac’s five-match-old era in Indian football has been unremarkable so far with a lone victory, three defeats and a draw. The matches were used by the Croatian to try out all the players he has at his disposal, leaving everyone, including some players, intrigued, if not confused.
Such intrigues, about team’s composition and playing approach, has proven to be detrimental to the team’s shape and health going into an important and long campaign like the World Cup qualifier.
The key players in the mix, however, conveyed that the mood in the camp was upbeat and they were all confident of a good show against Oman.
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“We play to win. We will play to our strengths, and look to keep the opposition at bay. Hopefully, we can get off to a good start and pick up the maximum points to start off the qualifiers,” said goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu.
India held Oman to a goalless draw last time the sides met -- a friendly game in 2018 building up to the Asian Cup.
“Of course, it is good to keep in mind what happened when we last faced Oman. We need to make sure we put on a good show in front of our home crowd in Guwahati,” added Gurpreet.
India would miss the services of midfielder Amarjit Singh Kiyam, Stimac seems to have taken a liking to the the 18-year old. He was the only player who had featured in all five matches under him.
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Stimac would also try to shore up the backline against Oman. Anas Edathodika might return to the lineup to team up with Sandesh Jhingan in defence while Anirudh Thapa and Sahal Abdul Samad could man the midfield. Ashique Kuruniyan might return to bolster the attack along with Sunil Chhetri.
After the match against Oman, India will play Qatar in on September 10, followed by ties against Afghanistan and Bangladesh.
India: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Rahul Bheke, Sandesh Jhingan, Anas Edathodika, Adil Khan, Udanta Singh, Sahal Abdul Samad, Anirudh Thapa, Lallianzuala Chhangte, Ashique Kuruniyan, Sunil Chhetri.
Oman: Faiz Al-Rushaidi, Saad Al-Mukhaini, Mohammed Al-Musalami, Mohammed Al-Balushi, Ali Al-Busaidi, Ahmed Mubarak, Ibrahim Saleh, Yaseen Al-Sheyadi, Jameel Al-Yahmadi, Mataz Saleh, Mohammed Al-Ghassini
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