On a day marred by India’s loss to Pakistan in cricket, the U23 Indian Football team gave fans an incredible reason to celebrate as they ousted Oman on foreign soil, kicking off their 2022 Asian Cup Qualifying campaign in style. IFTWC analyzes India’s performance in our match report.
Fresh off a victorious SAFF Championship campaign, senior and U23 Head Coach Igor Stimac fielded his charges in a 4-4-2 formation, the same shape which had worked for the senior team in the later stages of SAFF.
Dheeraj Singh started in goal, Deepak Tangri and Narender Gahlot operated as center-halfs while Asish Rai and Akash Mishra were the starting fullbacks. Suresh Singh Wangjam, scorer of a crucial goal for the senior team in the SAFF Cup final, wore the armband and dictated the midfield with the help of Jeakson Singh. Rahul KP and Vikram Pratap Singh were deployed as wide midfielders while Rahim Ali and Aniket Jadhav shouldered the goalscoring responsibility in the attacking third.
Lalengmawia ‘Apuia’ Ralte missed out due to lack of adequate fitness. Sumit Rathi, Amarjit Singh, and Princeton Rebello were among the others on the bench.
The match got off to a frantic start as India’s wingers bombed down the flanks, looking to unsettle the Omani backline. In the 6th minute, the captain Suresh Singh played a delectable through ball to Vikram Pratap Singh on the right-wing. The 19-year-old was hurled to the ground inside the box by Yousef Al-Malki as the referee pointed to the spot for a deserving penalty to the Indian colts.
Rahim Ali stepped up to take the spot-kick and calmly nestled it into the bottom right corner, beating Ibrahim Al-Rajhi who guessed the right direction but failed to keep it out. India were ahead. In the 8th minute, a dangerous corner was saved by Dheeraj Singh, who was called into action for the first time.
The game soon lost its high intensity but the Indians looked to find their wingers every time they were on the ball and kept Oman on their toes. Deepak Tangri led the backline with maturity and example as he stepped in to block shots and intercept passes on innumerable occasions. In the 35th minute, a dangerously whipped freekick from the right was headed over by the omnipresent Tangri. Oman went close on the resulting corner but the chance went begging as no one could provide the needed touch.
India’s attacking mentality paid off in the 37th minute when Akash Mishra passed the ball to Rahim Ali, who played the perfect through ball to Vikram Pratap Singh, who calmly slotted the ball in the corner and doubled India’s lead.
India went into the tunnel at half-time with a comfortable lead.
Oman looked to inflict attacks right from the onset in the second half but Tangri and Gahlot stood their ground with Suresh and Jeakson dropping deep to help them out. A fiercely whipped cross was blasted into the path of an Omani striker in the 58th minute but he couldn’t make contact and failed to score.
The Omani midfield and wingers failed to tactically break down India’s defensive shape and relied on only set pieces to create any chances for their attackers. One such freekick was awarded to the Reds in the 63rd minute but the strike was straight at Dheeraj who managed to block it with ease.
India however, did not take their foot off the gas. In the 71st minute, Vikram Pratap combined beautifully with Rahim Ali on the right flank who blasted his shot just wide of the far post, from a tight angle. These quick counters prevented Oman to keep a long spell of possession and thwarted their hopes to string together passes in their attacking third.
In the 88th minute, however, the Omanis dug deep and pulled one back through Waleed al Musallami. The No. 9, Abdullah Al Ballushi beat Akash Mishra on the left and ran into the box, crossing a low ball towards Musallami who scored from close range.
However, it was too little too late as the Indian colts managed to seal the victory with their dogged defending in the last few minutes.
Match Ratings (out of 10)
Dheeraj – 7.5
Asish – 7.5
Deepak – 9
Narender – 7.5
Akash – 7
Jeakson – 7.5
Suresh – 7.5
Rahul – 6.5
Aniket – 6.5
Rahim – 9
Vikram – 9
Bryce Miranda – 7
Amarjit – 6
Hormipam – 6
India next play hosts UAE on 28th October.
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