India begin arduous climb

India begin arduous climb

Constantine's men clash with Oman, hoping to cause a ripple in a tough pool

India begin arduous climb

They know the task they are up to. And with just six days of training-time under their belt, India will have to play out of their skins if they are to get anything out of the opening tie of the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers against Oman at the Sree Kanteerava stadium on Thursday.

Ranked 141 in the world, the Indians, apart from Oman, are pooled alongside first timers Guam, Turkmenistan and the Asian heavyweights Iran in Group D. And with just the group winner and four best group runners-up from eight groups making it through to the next round, India’s chances appear slim.

Fighting against odds is a familiar tale for India and under Stephen Constantine -- back in his second stint as coach -- the team will be looking to take the challenge head on.

Their newly appointed skipper Arnab Mondal also expressed the confidence that his boys will give a good account of themselves, starting with the tie against Oman, ranked 101.
“Yes, we know it’s a tough group to be in. But, if you need to achieve something big, you need to beat the big boys in the league,” said the skipper.

“However, we are not thinking too far ahead now. We only have Oman game in our minds. We have been practising for the last 7-8 days. Our fitness level is good and we’re confident of defeating Oman. Let this game get over and we’ll think about the others later.”

Having assembled a midfield-heavy side, it won’t be a surprise if the Constantine adopts a 4-3-3 formation. The top performers from the I-League, Eugeneson Lyngdoh and Jackichand Singh, are likely to form the attacking trio with deputy skipper Sunil Chhetri, while Satiyasen Singh, CK Vineeth and Dhanpal Ganesh might take charge of the proceedings in the midfield.

Skipper Mondal will marshall his troops in the defence. And with Sandesh Jhingan missing the tie due to a shoulder injury, Gurwinder Singh is expected to partner his skipper in the back, while Bengaluru boy Rino Anto and Reagan Singh might occupy the wing-backs position.

Subrata Pal, who had a below par season with Salgaocar, might also be among the players being left out of the side, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu likely to make his debut for the national side in the goal.

While the Indians are still trying to get their best men for the job, the visitors seemed to be a settled side. Having played four friendlies before leaving for India, the Omanis will surely be looking at three points. But, their skipper Ali Al-Habsi is not taking anything for granted. “Like I said earlier (on Tuesday), the Indians are an improving side. Their league is developing and the players are benefitting from it. I expect it to be a close game and we are ready for it,” he said.

The middle-eastern side will have the experienced Al-Habsi in the goal, while the defence is expected to be led by the 27-year-old Saad Al-Mukhaini in the company of Mohammed Al-Musalami. The midfield is likely to see the most experienced Omani international Ahmed Mubarak Al-Mahaijri, who has 122 games under his belt, while Amad Al-Hosni may put the Indian defence in a spot of bother as he is likely to lead the attack in the company of Abdulaziz Al-Muqbali.

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