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Tuesday, Dec 10, 2019

Oman down listless India 1-0 in World Cup qualifying

After missing an early penalty, Oman forward Muhsen Al-Ghassani scored in the 33rd minute to give his side the win. However, the scoreline flattered the Igor Stimac-coached Indian team, which failed to create a single scoring opportunity throughout the game.

football Updated: Nov 19, 2019 23:55 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
New Delhi
Indian players congratulate the opposition.
Indian players congratulate the opposition.(Twitter)
         

An insipid display, compounded by first-half injuries to midfielder Pronay Halder and centre back Adil Khan, condemned India to a 1-0 defeat at the hands of hosts Oman in a World Cup qualifying Group E clash in Muscat on Tuesday.

After missing an early penalty, Oman forward Muhsen Al-Ghassani scored in the 33rd minute to give his side the win. Replays showed Al-Ghassani may have been in an offside position when the ball was played through to him. However, the scoreline flattered the Igor Stimac-coached Indian team, which failed to create a single scoring opportunity throughout the game.

The loss effectively ends India’s hopes of progressing to the next World Cup qualifying round, with second-placed Oman already nine points ahead of the Blue Tigers with three games left to play. India will now aim to finish third in the group, doing which will ensure direct progression to the next qualification round for the 2023 Asian Cup. India are currently fourth in the group.

Needing a win to stay in the World Cup qualification race, Stimac made three changes to the line-up that drew 1-1 against Afghanistan last week. Farukh Choudhary, Manvir Singh and Nishu Kumar came in place of Sahal Abdul Samad, Pritam Kotal and Mandar Rao Dessai. Forward Ashique Kuruniyan was pushed back into an unfamiliar left-back role.

The game started on an ominous note for India with defensive midfielder Halder injuring his shoulder in the third minute while jumping for a challenge. He continued playing after receiving medical attention.

Three minutes later, India right back Rahul Bheke was adjudged to have fouled Al-Ghassani inside the box while sliding into the Oman player, after he went down while attempting to round off the former.

It made no difference to the scoreline, however, as Al-Ghassani skied his effort from the resulting spot kick. As the game progressed, Oman struggled to break down India’s backline.

The visitors, however, were poorer going forward. Arguably, India’s best chance of the game came just before the 20-minute mark when Brandon Fernandes’s lobbed free kick found Udanta Singh in space near the goal. It didn’t even result in a shot as Udanta failed to control the ball.

A few minutes later, Al-Ghassani headed over from a corner after being left unmarked inside the box. In the 27th minute, the injured Halder was taken off and Vinit Rai introduced. Six minutes later, Al-Ghassani made amends for his earlier miss when he slotted a defence-splitting through ball past India keeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu. The linesman didn’t flag for offside, although TV replays cast doubts on that decision. To make matters worse for India, centre back Adil Khan went to the ground clutching his hamstring. He was immediately replaced by Anas Edathodika.

It was a scrappy affair from then on as the hosts seemed content with a 1-0 lead, particularly with India failing to threaten their goal. The only time either of the two sides came close to scoring in the second half was when Sandhu stretched to his left just past the hour mark to keep out a powerful free kick from Oman’s Mohsin Al-Khaldi.

In the 69th minute, Stimac brought in full-back Sarthak Golui for Bheke. The game ended with a whimper as India failed to show enough urgency, even in the six minutes of injury time, to put the visitors’ backline under any sort of pressure.

The full-time whistle marked the ninth time in 10 games under Stimac’s short tenure that India have failed to win. India’s only victory during the Croatian’s reign came in the King’s Cup invitational tournament in Thailand earlier this year, where they defeated the hosts 1-0.

Apart from that solitary win, India have drawn four and lost five games this year under Stimac.

In the qualifying standings, India are a point behind third-placed Afghanistan and two ahead of Bangladesh, who have a game in hand. The Blue Tigers will next face Qatar at home in March. They will end their campaign in this round with back-to-back games in June against Bangladesh (away) and Afghanistan (home).

While a third-place finish in this round will see India get a direct berth to the next round of Asian Cup qualifiers, India will stay alive in the continental competition even if they finish bottom of the group. If that happens, they will have to play a play-off round, like they did in the same stage at the previous qualifiers for the 2019 Asian Cup.