Oman strike late to sink India

Oman's Rabia Alawi Al Mandhar (centre) celebrates with a team-mate after scoring against India during their FIFA World Cup qualifier in Guwahati on Thursday. PTI

Tagged favourites by the Indian coach Igor Stimac, Oman lived up to their billing, defeating the hosts 2-1 in their Group E match in the second round of the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers, which also serve as joint-qualifiers for the AFC Asian Cup 2023, here on Thursday.

Oman’s Rabia Alawi Al Mandhar’s double late in the second half cancelled out Indian skipper Sunil Chhetri’s opener in the first.

Stimac opted for caution, leaving out promising midfielder Sahal Abdul Samad on the bench. Rowllin Borges took the midfield alongside Anirudh Thapa and Brandon Fernandes. Adil joined Sandesh Jhingan in the defence that had Rahul Bheke and Subhasish Bose operating as wingbacks. Up front, Chhetri played as a lone striker with Ashique Kuruniyan and Udanta Singh on the flanks.

Buoyed on by a 22,700-strong crowd at the Indira Gandhi Athletics Stadium, India came on to the pitch with an intent and a plan.

Sticking to the Croatian’s philosophy, the Blue Tigers created their first chance just after two minutes. Brandon Fernandes latched on a ball from the midfield and drove forward, before delivering an enticing cross in the box which was devoid of Indian strikers.

In the 9th minute, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu denied Oman’s Abdulaziz from close range. Opposition’s left-back A Al Busaidi lifted the ball over the defenders onto the path of his countryman, who took a touch before shooting straight into the gloves of an alert Gurpreet.

The Indian dominance continued with the hosts coming close yet again in the 15th minute. Chhetri played the ball to Udanta, who was free on the right for a shot. The winger narrowed his angle and smashed his effort on the crossbar. The rebound fell clear of danger.

India finally reaped the reward of their persistence in the 24th minute through a well-taken freekick, won by Kuruniyan, after he was brought down by Oman’s right-back Al Ghaliani on the right flank.

Brandon played a ball low across the face of the goal that found Chhetri, who made no mistake in drilling it past the Oman ‘keeper Faiyz Al Rusheidi. This was his 72nd international goal.

At half-time, India led 1-0. 

Oman came out all guns blazing after the break and were rightly rewarded for their efforts. In the 82nd minute, substitute Jouhar Bilal picked out Al Mandhar, who raced ahead of Bheke before chipping the ball over the onrushing Gurpreet, into the net.

On the counter in the 83rd minute, Chhetri laid the ball on the right for Manvir Singh, who fired it in across the net but Lallianzuala Chhangte, charging on the left flank failed to get on the end of it.

The hosts were made to pay heavily for that miss as Al Mandhar got his second with a spectacular strike in the 90th minute. He left behind Bheke, evaded Jhingan before unleashing a ferocious curler in the top corner of the net.

India will take on Qatar on September 10 in Doha.

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