Oman test awaits India in World Cup qualifiers

Oman test awaits India in World Cup qualifiers

In the four meetings against Oman so far, India have conceded 11 goals while winning just one fixture, losing two and drawing one.

By (Agencies)

Published: Thu 11 Jun 2015, 12:43 PM

Last updated: Wed 8 Jul 2015, 2:52 PM

Oman captain Ali Al Habsi speaks as coach Paul Joseph Le Guen looks on during a Press conference in Bangaluru on Wednesday. — PTI

Bangaluru — An acid test awaits the Indian football team as it gets ready to host higher-ranked Oman in the second round opening match of AFC qualification for the 2018 Fifa World Cup at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium on Thursday.

Though India have made progress under Englishman Stephen Constantine, beating Nepal in a two-legged preliminary qualifier in March, the chief coach knows it’s going to require an extraordinary effort to emerge with a victory against Oman who, at 101, are ranked 40 places higher than the hosts in the pecking order. The side will be led by Arnab Mondal and not Subrata Paul, Constantine said on the eve of the match.

The Indians have been training with renewed vigour for these matches. Last Saturday, Constantine put the team through a boot camp organised by the Indian Army on the ASC campus here. It was a team-building exercise, meant to help push the side over the line.

In the four meetings against Oman so far, India have conceded 11 goals while winning just one fixture, losing two and drawing one.

The last time the two teams clashed was in Muscat in February 2012 when Oman won the friendly 5-1. The visitors would be keen to repeat the win while India would be drawing some confidence from their 2-0 and 0-0 results against Nepal in the first round. Oman will enter the match as favourites though they are without the services of key players Jaber Al Owaisi and Mohammed Al Shiyabi, who have been ruled out due to injuries.

Besides Oman, the luck of the draw has pitted India in the same group as Iran, who are ranked 41, besides lowly Turkmenistan (173) Guam (174). With two teams to qualify for the next round, India will have to play out of their skins to make any progress. Meanwhile, minnows Bhutan and Guam are hoping to prove they can handle swimming with the big fish when the second round of regional qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup start.

Just being in the group stage at all is a sign of progress for the two teams that have been on the wrong side of 200 in Fifa’s rankings in recent years. Guam climbed sufficiently high enough to avoid March’s first round when 12 teams met on a home and away knockout basis to progress straight to the second round, where 40 teams were divided into eight groups of five.

The winners of each group are guaranteed a place in the final round of qualification, along with the four-best runners-up.

The eight top seeds, including Japan, South Korea and Asian champion Australia start their qualification journey on the road to Russia on June 16. Bhutan made it to the second round the hard way. In March, ranked 209 in the world, the very bottom, the South Asian nation defeated Sri Lanka and travels to Hong Kong on Thursday, five days before taking on the relative might of China at home. 

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