India face uphill task in must-win tie against Oman
With their chances in the FIFA World Cup 2022 and the AFC Asian Cup 2023 joint Qualifiers hanging by a thread, India face off against Oman at the Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex Stadium in Muscat on Tuesday. While a win against Oman will keep India's hopes of reaching the next stage alive, a loss in the tie will all but certainly end India's chances of moving on to the next stage irrespective of the results of the remaining fixtures. A draw, on the other hand, makes the task a very steep one, if not impossible.
India are currently fourth in Group E with three points from four matches while Oman are second just behind Qatar with nine points. The Blue Tigers will need to finish runners up in the group at the very least to have any chances of moving onto the next round.
The last time the Blue Tigers faced Oman in Guwahati back in September, Igor Stimac's men were unlucky not to have registered any points from the match. Despite leading the match courtesy a Sunil Chhetri goal till the 89th minute, the hard work came undone right at the end as Al-Mandhar Al Alawi scored two late goals for the visitors to subject India to a painful loss. India will be eager to replicate a similar performance against Oman on Tuesday, minus the late collapse. That, however, will be a tough task in itself considering the Omanis will be playing at home.
India had to rely on late goals of their own to salvage late draws against Bangladesh and Afghanistan in their last two outings and will need to improve their performance levels considerably if they are to get anything against a Oman side which is a lot stronger than their last two opponents, at least on paper. With just three points from four matches, Chhetri and Co. can ill afford to drop any more.
The defence hasn't looked quite as robust ever since their historic goalless draw against Qatar a couple of months back and with the absence of the likes of Sandesh Jhingan and Anas Edathodika, the task will be made even tougher in the crunch away tie. With seven of their 10 goals in the Stimac era having come from set pieces, the lack of goals from open play, despite their possession-based style, will be another big concern for the Croatian head coach. The long travel and back-to-back away matches present further challenges and may require Stimac to make multiple changes to the first XI he fielded against Afghanistan.
Barring a 2-1 away loss to AFC Asian Cup champions Qatar, Erwin Koeman's men have registered the maximum points from their remaining three fixtures - 2-1 win against India, 3-0 victory over Bangladesh and most recently a 4-1 triumph over Afghanistan. Al Mandhar has been the driving force for the team, having netted four of the side's ten goals in the Qualifiers campaign already. On the back of his match-winning performance against India in the two side's last meeting, the attacker will be the biggest threat for the Blue Tigers come Tuesday. His ability to drift in from the left to get his shots off will be something the Indian backline and the midfielders will need to be wary of.
Apart from Mandhar, the presence of veteran midfielder Ahmed Mubarak 'Kano' and striker Mohsin Al Ghassani will also keep the India backline on its toes.
Catch the match LIVE at 8:30 PM onwards on the Star Sports network and Hotstar on November 19.