Result takes precedence as dynamic India host Oman
Igor Stimac’s biggest test as head coach of the Indian national men’s football team has finally arrived, with the Croat delivering his final instructions ahead of the team’s clash with Oman on Thursday. The encounter will kick-start India’s joint 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers and 2023 AFC Asian Cup qualifying campaigns and will be held at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in Guwahati, Assam.
In seven previous meetings between the two nations, the Reds have won four times while the Blue Tigers have just one victory to their name. Furthermore, India have never come out on top in a FIFA recognized match with Oman, which further signifies the magnitude of the task facing Stimac and Co.
Ever since his appointment at the helm of Indian football, Stimac has perpetually channelled his focus at the World Cup Qualifiers, thereby using the in-between tournaments like the King’s Cup and Hero Intercontinental Cup to test out his hypothesis on every squad member. The Blue Tigers, therefore, didn’t exactly set the stage alight, in the context of results at either of those events, losing three of the five matches. However, from a broader perspective, there were a lot of positives for the Croat to build upon.
The emergence and performance of youngsters like Amarjit Singh Kiyam and Narender Gahlot, among others, was, without doubt, the biggest cause of optimism for the soon-to-be 52-year-old. Despite being in the game for a relatively short period, these players demonstrated great courage and maturity when on and off the ball, slowly transitioning the team’s style of play from a more conserved to a vastly expansive idea of football.
Hence, the loss of Amarjit to a broken hand will be a massive setback for the Blue Tigers going into the fixture. The youngster had featured heavily in every match under Stimac so far, developing an innate understanding about what the Croatian wants to achieve. Meanwhile, the Blue Tigers will be keeping their fingers crossed with respect to the fitness of Anas Edathodika. The 32-year-old comes with mountains of experience which will help steady nerves and plug holes in a defence that was caught out way too many times in the last five fixtures.
In Amarjit’s absence, either Vinit Rai or Anirudh Thapa may step in to dictate the pace of the game. Sahal Abdul Samad has been outstanding but will need to be more of a goal threat if India are to do well. Sunil Chhetri, Lallianzuala Chhangte and Udanta Singh likewise, must burden the responsibility of finding the back of the net without sacrificing their defensive duties.
Ranked 87th, the Reds are in-form, having won four of their last five fixtures in all competitions. Head coach Erwin Koeman, brother of Netherlands boss Ronald Koeman, was appointed earlier this year and has done well to build on the foundations laid by his predecessor, Pim Verbeek.
Oman enjoyed their best-ever finish at the 2019 AFC Asian Cup, reaching the Last-16 after having finished behind Uzbekistan and Japan in the group stage. Year on year, the Gulf nation have improved its standing in Asian football, continually representing themselves at the continental stage and like India, hoping for more global exposure.
Koeman’s men go into Thursday’s fixture as the favourites based on both recent history and sharpness. The Reds played and won against Yemen in a preparatory fixture held less than a week ago and did quite well in a multi-nation tournament played not so long ago.
As far as the team itself is concerned, Oman have sensational players capable enough of drilling past any defence on their day. Ahmed Mubarak 'Kano' is a steady, structured midfielder who can massively impact both areas of the pitch. Meanwhile, in Saad 'Suhail' Al Mukhaini, the Reds have someone they can heavily rely on when the going gets tough.
Catch the match live from 7:30 pm onwards on the Star Sports network, Hotstar and Jio TV.