Indian debutants react after hard-fought draw against Oman

The Indian national team ended their much-awaited return to international football with a 1-1 draw against Oman at the Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum Stadium in Dubai on Thursday. Trailing by a goal at the break, the Blue Tigers rallied to equalise in the second half through Manvir Singh and earned a hard-fought draw.

Head coach Igor Stimac spoke about how the result wasn’t as important as gaining some valuable experience for many of the new faces in his squad. As many as 10 players made their international debut for the Blue Tigers as Akash Mishra, Ashutosh Mehta, Chinglensana Singh, Suresh Wangjam, Bipin Singh and Jeakson Singh started the match, while Lalengmawia, Mohammed Yasir, Ishan Pandita and Mashoor Shereef made appearances off the bench.

After the game, a few of the debutants shared their experience with the All Indian Football Federation (AIFF) and summed up what it was like to represent their country in the senior team. “It’s been a 12-year long wait for this opportunity [for me]. Very delighted to make my debut. It’s every player’s dream to play for the nation. It’s a feeling of pride to wear the blue jersey,” Ashutosh enthused.

He revealed what head coach Stimac had advised him prior to his national team debut. “Just before the game, Igor Stimac called me to his room. He gave me a lot of confidence. He told me, ‘you just need to believe and have faith in yourself. You have got all the characteristics for playing at the highest level.’ This gave me so much confidence,” the NorthEast United FC right-back said.

Ashutosh, who was involved in the build-up to India’s equaliser against Oman, wants to continue improving his game after the draw on Thursday. “Oman is a top side. Of course, we wanted to win. The boys played with personality and character. There is always room for improvement. Onwards and upwards from here,” he asserted.

Bengaluru FC’s Suresh Wangjam also made his debut for the Blue Tigers and the midfielder enjoyed himself on the pitch, especially in the second half. “I think the game was very fast. Even the coach was telling us not to sleep for a second on the ground, always be focused and watch your man. I think we have done what the coach had asked of us. People say that this is a new India with new young players. It is now on us to take the responsibility and change the new India. It was a great feeling in the second half, playing all those passes. The goal also came from open play. So, it was a good feeling. This is a good, positive sign [for us],” Wangjam said.

Last season’s Emerging Player of the League Lalengmawia was another debutant who enjoyed his first-ever match for the Indian senior team. “It was quite difficult because the intensity is very high. The opponents were a strong side. They were putting us under pressure. It was more difficult than I expected. It was a great experience to play against a good side,” he said.

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