Oman has won five of the six matches played against India in the last decade.
Talismanic captain Sunil Chhetri will not be there to inspire but a young Indian team will seek to play fearless football against a more fancied Oman in its first international match in more than a year in Dubai on Thursday.
Chhetri is not with the team for the two international friendlies here – the second one against the UAE on Saturday – as he is recovering from COVID-19.
But the side with an average age of just over 24 is raring to go in its first international match after November 2019 and many of them have done well in the recent Indian Super League for their respective franchises.
Head coach Igor Stimac has said that the youngsters will be given ample chances to prove themselves and they should play free and fearless football.
“We need to come to the pitch without any fear, we need to try to make our transitions properly, and we need to try and enjoy the possession that we have. That’s what I want to ask of my players,” Stimac had said ahead of the camp here.
The absence of Chhetri, the second highest international goal-getter among active players, will be felt greatly but India did pull off a goal-less draw against Asian champions Qatar in Doha without the star striker in a 2022 World Cup qualifying round match in 2019.
“It’s a big miss, not having Chhetri bhai in the squad. But I’m sure the boys will take this as an opportunity and we have to play together as a team,” said number one goalkeeper and senior player Gurpreet Singh Sandhu who has led the side on many occasions. Fortunately for Stimac, the 27-member squad is a mixture of players who have been with the team earlier and new faces like Akash Mishra, Liston Colaco, Ishan Pandita, Bipin Singh and Lalengmawia. The rookies would be especially eager to showcase their talent after making an impact in the ISL.
The absence of Chhetri, the second highest international goal-getter among active players, will be felt greatly. | File
The likes of Amrinder Singh, Chinglensana Singh, Rowllin Borges and Lallianzuala Chhangte have been the top Indian performers for their ISL teams and they will be propped up by experienced campaigners like Gurpreet, Sandesh Jhingan and Anirudh Thapa.
The All Indian Football Federation’s move to play international friendlies against strong teams like Oman and the UAE ahead of the joint 2022 World Cup and 2023 Asian Cup qualifying round matches in June have been hailed by Stimac and Chhetri.
It is expected to be a tough match against Oman who have beaten India in both the legs of the 2022 World Cup qualifiers in 2019.
Oman are ranked 81st in the FIFA chart while India are at 104th but Stimac’s men should take confidence from the fact that they were on equal terms with the Gulf side in the home leg match of the 2022 World Cup qualifiers in Guwahati.
In fact, India were running away with the match after Chhetri gave them the lead. Oman, however, struck two late goals to win the match. The 2017 Gulf Cup winners also won the second leg in Muscat 1-0.
Oman are coming into Thursday’s match after playing out a goal-less draw with Jordan on Saturday. Before that, their last match was in December 2019 in the Gulf Cup where they lost to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
History also favours Oman as they have won five times in the six matches played against India in the last decade. One match ended in a draw.
India are out of reckoning for a 2022 World Cup berth but are still in contention for qualification in the 2023 Asian Cup.
Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Amrinder Singh, Subhashish Roy Chowdhury, Dheeraj Singh, Ashutosh Mehta, Akash Mishra, Pritam Kotal, Sandesh Jhingan, Chinglensana Singh, Adil Khan, Mandar Rao Dessai, Mashoor Shereef, Rowllin Borges, Lalengmawia, Jeakson Singh, Raynier Fernandes, Anirudh Thapa, Bipin Singh, Yasir Mohammad, Suresh Singh, Halicharan Narzary, Lallianzuala Chhangte, Ashique Kuruniyan, Manvir Singh, Ishan Pandita, Hitesh Sharma, Liston Colaco.
Match Starts at 7.15 p.m. IST; to be telecast live on Eurosport.