International football resumes for India as new-look side face Oman in friendly

After more than a year away from international football, the Indian national team make their much-awaited return to the pitch on Thursday when they take on Oman at the Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum Stadium in Dubai. The Blue Tigers last played an international match in November 2019 before the Covid-19 pandemic brought sport to a standstill and they will be eager to mark their return to action in national colours in style.

Up against Oman in their first match in more than a year, India will know all about how difficult an opponent they are facing having lost twice against them in 2019 during the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers. The Blues Tigers lost 1-2 at home before being edged by a 1-0 scoreline in the reverse group fixture.

However, India must have learned a lot from the past two encounters against Oman and will be hoping to give a better account of themselves in the friendly on Thursday. Hero Indian Super League 2020-21’s grand success helped pave the way for many new faces in the Indian squad and it will be intriguing to see how these players adapt to international football.

Under national coach Igor Stimac, India have been looking to play a possession-based and passing brand of football. He will want India to stick to his football philosophy against Oman and hope that the likes of Rowllin Borges and Raynier Fernandes can be leaders at the centre of the park having played a similar brand of football with new Hero ISL champions Mumbai City FC.

Anirudh Thapa is another Indian midfielder who will relish his opportunity in midfield and will look to make a difference, while his Chennaiyin FC teammate Lallianzuala Chhangte will pose a big threat to Oman’s defence in the wide areas. Up front, it will be interesting to see how the likes of Manvir Singh, Liston Colaco and Ishan Pandita fare in the absence of talisman Sunil Chhetri, who has been ruled out of both Oman and UAE friendlies due to medical reasons. All eyes will especially be on the likes of Manvir and Pandita after the striking duo enjoyed solid Hero ISL campaigns with ATK Mohun Bagan and FC Goa respectively.

Defensively, Sandesh Jhingan (ATK Mohun Bagan) and Adil Khan (FC Goa) are likely to start as Stimac’s first-choice centre-half pairing. Jhingan’s Hero ISL teammate Pritam Kotal is also likely to be a part of the backline, most probably in the right-back slot. 19-year-old Akash Mishra, who was one of the revelations of Hero ISL 2020-21, looks primed to start in the other full-back slot on the left.

Oman, meanwhile, will be expecting themselves to get the better of the Blue Tigers as they seek a third successive win against India. Currently 23 spots ahead of India in the FIFA rankings, Oman are ranked 81st and will want to kick on after a Round-of-16 finish – their best-ever in the AFC Asian Cup – in 2019.

The presence of Abdul Aziz Al Muqbali and Muhsen Al-Ghassani suggests that they have plenty of firepower in their attack and can hurt India’s defence, which needs to be on top of their game to keep Oman’s frontmen quiet. Al Muqbali, in particular, needs to be kept on a tight leash. He was heavily involved in the scoring for Oman in the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers and doesn’t require a second invitation when it comes to putting the ball in the net. He is also skillful and hardly ever switches off in his bid to make the most of any defensive lapses.

The 27-member India squad:

Goalkeepers: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Amrinder Singh, Subhasish Roy Chowdhury, Dheeraj Singh.

Defenders: Ashutosh Mehta, Akash Mishra, Pritam Kotal, Sandesh Jhingan, Chinglensana Singh, Adil Khan, Mandar Rao Dessai, Mashoor Shereef.

Midfielders: Rowllin Borges, Lalengmawia, Jeakson Singh, Raynier Fernandes, Anirudh Thapa, Bipin Singh, Mohammed Yasir, Suresh Singh, Halicharan Narzary, Lallianzuala Chhangte, Ashique Kuruniyan, Hitesh Sharma.

Forwards: Manvir Singh, Ishan Pandita, Liston Colaco.

Match starts 7.15 pm IST.


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