Let down by late goals
Heartbreak. That’s the only way you can describe India’s 1-2 loss to Oman in their opening fixture of the 2022 Fifa World Cup Qualifier, here on Thursday
Leading 1-0 till the last 10 minutes of the regulation time, India conceded two late goals to leave the pitch with sullen faces.
Oman’s hero was 24-year-old Al-Mandhar Al Alawi who scored a brace (82nd and 89th) after captain Sunil Chhetri gave India the lead with a fantastic strike in the 24th minute.
“It just happened. We were punished for two mistakes,” India coach Igor Stimac said after the game, which also served as 2023 Asian Cup Qualifications match.
Al-Mandhar’s first goal came when he outpaced his marker Adil Khan and dinked it over an onrushing Gupreet Singh Sandhu. The second too was a beauty. Dribbling from the left, he took a shot from the edge of the box which beat Gurpreet hands down.
India dominated the first half with more shots at the opposition goal. Ashique Kuruniyan, who returned to the team after missing the Kings Cup and Intercontinental Cup due to injury, created problems for the Oman defence with his pace and trickery in the left channel.
Following one such run down the left flank, he was fouled by Abdulaziz Al Ghailani and India got a free-kick on the left edge of the penalty box.
Brandon Fernandes took the set-piece, sent a grounder to the middle of the box and Chhetri fooled his marker to drill a left-footer into the Oman net, much to the delight of the vociferous crowd. This was Chhetri’s 72nd strike in India colours.
Earlier, India were denied the lead in the 15th minute when Udanta Singh’s shot off a Chhetri pass beat the Omani goalkeeper, but it struck the crossbar, much to the dismay of the home side. Udanta was also denied a goal in a similar fashion against the UAE in the Asian Cup earlier in the year.
“We wasted several chances. We cannot expect Sunil to score in every match,” Stimac said at the post-match media conference.
There were periods of incessant Indian attack in the first half. Central defender Sandesh Jhingan made a mess of a free header off a corner by Anirudh Thapa.
Oman pressed hard in the closing stages of the first half. Gurpreet made a great save in the 43rd minute, blocking a Ahmed Kano header in a one-to-one situation to keep India’s lead intact. Gurpreet made some stunning saves after the changes of ends too when Oman were all over the hosts.
India will next travel to Doha to face World Cup hosts and Asian champions Qatar in the next group E qualifier on September 10. Qatar routed Afghanistan 6-0 in Doha. Bangladesh are the other team in the group.