The Blue Tigers are set to return to action after a 16 month gap when they take on Oman in an international friendly on Thursday. The All India Football Federation announced a set of friendlies against Oman on March 25 and UAE on March 29 which will take place in Dubai, UAE. This will also be a part of the preparation for the final three group matches of the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers which is set to take place in June. The friendlies come in a comfortable time for the Indian contingent as the ISL season concluded recently rendering a fit team. Oman is on the back of a 0-0 draw against Jordan in a friendly the previous week.
Indian national team coach Igor Stimac selected the 27 man squad for the friendlies on the basis of recent form, which led to the infiltration of various fresh faces in the national team. Talismanic skipper Sunil Chhetri had to be removed from the final squad as he tested positive for coronavirus. Seasoned regulars of the national team like Udanta Singh too were axed due to poor form. The squad though boasts a crop of newcomers including ISL emerging player of the season Lalengmawia. It won’t be a surprise if the gaffer decides to field a new look starting lineup for the game.
The Oman side coached by another Croatian Branko Ivanovic will look forward to a competitive game. Oman had edged India 1-0 in their last encounter in the world cup qualifier in 2019, which was incidently the last match that India had played. Branko was vary of the threat that India possess which he mentioned while speaking to Qatar media : ” India is a respectable team. We played them before and we saw how strong they are “. The goalless draw against Jordan last week was Oman’s first international match in more than a year. Oman are sitting in a comfortable position in the group of the world cup qualifiers at the second place below Qatar. India face a stern test when they face Oman who are 23 places above India in the latest FIFA ranking.
Players to watch out :
Akash Mishra and Chinglensana Singh are expected to get their international debuts after a stellar season with Hyderabad FC. The scarcity of left backs in the squad further increases the chance of 19 year old Akash to grab the place on a regular basis. Armed with pace and vision, the defender is expected to play an important role in taming the opposition attack.
Manvir Singh finished as the second highest scoring Indian alongside Bipin Singh in the recent ISL season with 6 goals , only behind Sunil Chhetri who scored 8. The tall, lanky striker achieved this feat, playing most of the matches in wide positions. ISL 20-21 winner Bipin Singh too netted the same amount of goals playing wide. Ishan Pandita too has taken the ISL by storm by scoring 4 goals from the bench averaging a goal for every 33 minutes.
ISL emerging player of the season Lalengmawia and Hyderabad FC’s Liston Colaco also have impressed the fans and the coach with their performances.
Mohsen Jawhar :
The midfielder is lethal in creating attacks and finishing them. He had played for Ohod club, which plays in the first division of Saudi Arabian football. He was also in race for the golden boot in the 2019-20 season of the Oman professional league. A natural number 10, Jawhar would be influential in testing the Indian backline with his movements.
Abdulaziz Al-Muqbali :
The 31 year old striker will be the main target man for the Indian defence. Heaping a total of 31 goals from 86 international appearances, he is one of the highest goalscorers for the Oman national team. He bagged a 6 goal haul when Oman played Bhutan in 2017. His finishing will be one to watch out for, who could capitalise on any lapse of concentration from the defence. He had scored a brace against India in 2015 when Oman won 3-0 in a World Cup qualifier.
Probable starting lineup :
The formation that seems likely for Igor Stimac with the squad is 4-3-3 due to the absence of creative attacking midfielders like Sahal Abdul Samad and Brandon Fernandes.
Igor Stimac has been impressed with the promotion of young talents in Hyderabad FC and he had special praise for the coach Manolo Marquez in developing them. Given the physicality of the Omani side, Chinglensana Singh can be expected to start alongside Sandesh Jhingan in the centre of the defence. Akash Mishra seems as the favourite to start at left back.
The midfield could also feature debutants like Apuia and Suresh who are natural central midfielders.
Manvir Singh’s versatility to play at the right would enable Ishan Pandita to start in a three man attack.
Probable lineup :
Head to head :
India had faced Oman 9 times, with Oman winning 7 of them and the rest 2 ending as draws. The last time the two teams met was on November 2019 in the World Cup qualifiers which ended 1-0 in the favour of Oman.
Keeping in mind that the Indian contingent is fresh and fit from the ISL season, it seems to give an edge in fitness given that the Oman professional league is on a break since February for the national camp, to be resumed by April. The game is expected to be a close one with a draw being not an unexpected result. Individual players can influence the game to a larger extent and a good chemistry is key as both the teams have just resumed their international football after a break of more than one year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Overall, it would be decided by which team remains coherent till the entire 90 minutes.