It’s the drama in sport that makes fans yearn for a repeat viewing. On Thursday, India’s national football team produced an inspired performance to push a superior Oman side close before losing 1-2 in a thrilling World Cup qualifier at the Sree Kanteerava stadium.
An estimated 20,000 people egged India on throughout at decibel levels that would have left many an IPL game to shame.
Oman, ranked 40 places higher than India at 101, kicked-off and in one swift move opened the scoring through a goal from striker Qasim Said to immediately push India back. It was always going to be a tough battle with only a four-day camp for preparation. The loss of defender Sandesh Jhingan through injury on the eve of the contest had titled the odds in Oman’s favour. And in the first 20 minutes, India did little to disprove their naysayers.
But it was the individual brilliance of India’s star striker Sunil Chhetri that levelled the scores in the 26th minute. A throw-in by Rino Anto was collected swiftly by Chhetri outside the box. In a clean turn Chhetri curled the ball with his left foot into the top right corner to make it 1-1.
A ray of hope emerged. But it was the absence of Jhingan which would ultimately bring about their downfall, as the weakened defence failed to keep its shape.
They would pay for their lack of communication as Oman won a penalty in the 39th minute. Oman’s Al Hosni kept his calm and slotted in, after the first attempt was disallowed by the referee.
With home support behind them India kept attacking in the second half. In the 69th minute Robin Singh placed the ball in the back of the net but it was disallowed for off-side.
India coach Stephen Constantine rued the lack of preparation time, but praised the team’s showing.
No time to prepare
“With the I-League it was difficult for the side to gel. Oman, on the other hand, had two-and-a-half weeks together. I guess that made a big difference,” he said. “But the performance has improved from our game against Nepal and one hopes it continues in the same manner,” he added.
One nation, one dream, screamed a giant banner across the stadium. The dream of playing the World Cup is still alive, but only just. While India play their next match in Guam in five days and return to Bangalore to face Iran. If they manage to replicate their performance, who knows?