Know your team: Blue Tigers to use Oman friendly as final dress rehearsal for AFC Asian Cup
Stephen Constantine’s Blue Tigers will play their final international friendly to prepare for the upcoming AFC Asian Cup 2019 when they square off against Oman in Abu Dhabi on December 27. The 28-member strong Indian squad arrived in UAE last week but late on Wednesday, India head coach Stephen Constantine named his final 23-man squad which will feature against Oman and eventually in the AFC Asian Cup next month. The match against Oman will be an invaluable opportunity for Sunil Chhetri and Co. to acclimatise themselves with the conditions before the showcase event gets underway in January.
Ranked 82nd in the current FIFA Rankings, the Omanis will prove to be a big challenge for India - just the kind they need to ready themselves for a host of top opponents awaiting them in the AFC Asian Cup. Potted in Group A alongside Thailand, Bahrain and UAE, the Blues Tigers will begin their campaign on January 6.
In the past, the fixture has provided little joy for India. The two teams have faced each other six times in the past, with Oman coming out on top four times and India winning just one of the contests.
Following a three-year spell with the Blue Tigers in the early 2000s, Englishman Stephen Constantine returned to the helm of Indian football in 2015 and has been a major force behind the development of football in the country since. Under Constantine's stewardship, the national team achieve their best FIFA Ranking (97) in decades, while also qualifying for the AFC Asian Cup for only the fourth time in the country's history.
The Oman match will be the last of three high-profile international friendlies utilised by the Indian team to ready themselves for the AFC Asian Cup. The sequence began with a historical clash against the People's Republic of China on Chinese soil in mid-October. The Blues Tigers showed strong character against their illustrious opponents, soaking up immense pressure and eventually holding the Red Dragons to a thrilling stalemate. Next was a trip to Jordan, albeit under unfavourable circumstances which almost led to the match being called off. Due to travel delays, Constantine was forced to field a depleted side, but the team played spirited football and ended up losing by just an odd goal.
Still only 20, Thapa has matured into a fantastic midfielder and is a crucial part of Constantine's national team setup. The youngster began the year by helping Chennaiyin FC win the Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) 2017-18 title. Thapa was also a key cog in the Blue Tigers’ triumph in the Hero Intercontinental Cup in June and was later named the AIFF Emerging Player of the Year for 2017. However, the midfielder has had a somewhat disappointing second half of the year with Chennaiyin, who are currently struggling at the bottom of the Hero ISL 2018-19 table. Thapa’s form will be crucial to India's cause in the upcoming AFC Asian Cup and Constantine will hope that a good performance against Oman can help him recover some of the depleted confidence going into the big event in January.
Like Thapa, Subhasish Bose has firmly established himself as one of the rising stars in the country over the past couple of years. The 23-year-old has been phenomenal for Mumbai City FC in Hero ISL 2018-19. Despite his age, Subhasish is a leader on the field and has been an important piece of the Islanders' strong back line, which has propelled them to the second spot in the Hero ISL table. He also captained a young India side to the final of the SAFF Suzuki Cup 2018 and is expected to play a big role in the upcoming AFC Asian Cup. It will be interesting to see how Constantine chooses to use the versatile defender, who is equally comfortable playing both as a left-back and at the heart of the defence, in the match against Oman.
GOALKEEPERS: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Amrinder Singh, Vishal Kaith
DEFENDERS: Pritam Kotal, Sandesh Jhingan, Anas Edathodika, Salam Ranjan Singh, Sarthak Golui, Subhasish Bose, Narayan Das
MIDFIELDERS: Udanta Singh, Jackichand Singh, Pronay Halder, Vinit Rai, Rowllin Borges, Anirudh Thapa, Germanpreet Singh, Ashique Kuruniyan, Halicharan Narzary
FORWARDS: Sunil Chhetri, Jeje Lalpekhlua, Balwant Singh, Sumeet Passi