Muscat, November 18
Winless in four games so far in an increasingly disappointing campaign, the Indian football team faces higher-ranked Oman in a do-or-die World Cup qualifying round match here tomorrow.
A first-half strike from Sunil Chhetri gave India hopes of beating Oman in the first leg in Guwahati in September but it turned out to be a false dawn as the Gulf nation struck twice in the final 10 minutes to outwit India. Oman are coming into this match after an emphatic 4-1 win over Bangladesh on November 14.
India, on the other hand, are struggling after they needed late equalisers in their identical 1-1 draws against lower-ranked Bangladesh and Afghanistan. They had put up a more creditable show against Asian champions Qatar, holding them goalless.
After three draws and a defeat, India are fourth in Group E with three points while Oman are second with nine points from four matches. Qatar are on top with 10 points from four matches.
Stimac’s side has struggled not just in defence, but four matches into this campaign, it is also clear that the attack is also not in the best of form. India are no longer dependent on Chhetri only to score the goals but the inability to convert the chances has cost the team dear. Stimac has no illusion about who is the favourite but is hoping that his players will convert the chances which come their way and score goals. “Oman are much better now than the team we played against in Guwahati. They are the favourites. We know for a fact that this match is going to be very difficult for us,” the high-profile Croatian said.
India will still be without senior central defender Anas Edathodika as he returned home before the Afghanistan match due to a family emergency. This was a big blow to a team, which had lost the services of Sandesh Jhingan, Rowllin Borges and Amarjit Singh due to injuries.
India’s last three matches — all to be played next year — are against Qatar (at home on March 26), Bangladesh (away, June 4) and Afghanistan (at home, June 9). — PTI
India have never beaten Oman in 11 matches, and have lost eight times. Before the drawn at Guwahati this year, the two sides played out a 0-0 draw in the run-up to the 2019 Asian Cup in the UAE. In the two legs of the 2018 World Cup qualifiers in 2015, Oman beat India 3-0 and 2-1
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The encounter is still on