Ruthless in attack and clean sheets - Blue Tigers' mantra against Afghanistan and Oman

The Indian national football team will be on the road to play two consecutive away matches against Afghanistan and Oman on 14 and 19 November, respectively. The matches will be India’s fourth and fifth fixture in their ongoing 2022 FIFA World Cup and 2023 AFC Asian Cup joint qualifying campaign. India currently sit fourth in Group E with just two points from as many ties.

Maximum points will, therefore, be on the agenda in both the matches in order to keep their hopes alive and the Indian defence feels that could be achieved by prioritizing clean sheets. “Maintaining clean sheets will be of paramount importance in order to stay alive in the race of the World Cup Qualifiers. We will need to be sharper in the absence of Sandesh-bhai (Jhingan),” said Mumbai City FC full-back Subhasish Bose, who is among the 26-member squad named by head coach Igor Stimac for the upcoming ties.

The experienced Anas Edathodika voiced similar thoughts, as he recalled India’s previous Asian Cup qualifying campaign. He voiced, “There are no easy games at the International level, but we have shown defensive solidarity so far. We have to continue to believe in ourselves. We really need to get some good results in the next two games and all that starts with our performance at the back.”

"In Asian Cup qualifiers last time, we had three consecutive clean sheets. It always makes your job easier to win a match if you can come out with a clean sheet. If we can maintain our shape and hold the defensive line as per our plans, we can pull it off against them,” said the ATK defender.

The 28-year-old Rahul Bheke, meanwhile, asked his teammates to take inspiration from the 0-0 draw against Qatar, stating, “It’s an uphill task for us. But we have to inspire and motivate ourselves with the performance that we put up against Qatar. It is going to be a game of nerves for us.”

Oman might have emerged 2-1 victors against India in the earlier group fixture, but right-back Pritam Kotal feels India gave a good account of themselves and will be better prepared for the 19 November tie in Muscat. He quoted, “Yes, they got better of us in Guwahati, but we gave a good account of ourselves that day. We are confident of our capabilities and if we can play to our potential and hold our shape as per the coach's plans, we can swing it in our way.”

Adil Khan and Mandar Rao Dessai also shared their opinions on the upcoming matches, with the Hyderabad FC defender claiming, “We will miss Sandesh (Jhingan), but the others need to step up and shoulder the responsibility now. All players are currently playing in the Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) and so it shouldn’t be the same problem."

Dessai maintained, "These next two matches are going to very crucial in the context of qualifying for the next round. The defence will of course, be the cornerstone of our game. We need to be focused throughout as both sides possess some real quality in attack."

On the offensive front, the talismanic Sunil Chhetri laid out the need of the hour and stated, "We are creating chances. But that’s not enough. We have to try our best to convert them and try to be a tougher unit while defending. We have missed the opportunity against Bangladesh and we need to pull up our socks against Afghanistan. At the end of the day, if we can do better on the pitch, we’ll be happier."

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