A lot of us have been fascinating about India playing the football World Cup for a while now. A TV advert for the newspaper daily “DNA” which showed the national anthem being played at a World Cup finals venue in a match against Brazil had the hair at the back of the head standing for quite a few football fans in India.
For all intents and purposes, the Indian football team began its journey to this dream yesterday with a match against Oman in Bangalore as part of the qualifiers for the upcoming 2018 FIFA World Cup to be held in Russia.
India progressed to Round 2 of the Asian section of the qualifying campaign after beating Nepal on an aggregate score of 2-0 in two legged home and away match up.
The 40 teams who were eligible for the 2nd round were divided in groups of five into a total of 8 groups. The teams drawn in the same group will play each other in two legged home and away round robin format with the top team from each group making it to round 3. They will be joined by 4 best placed runners up to form the final 12 teams for Round 3.
India was drawn in Group D with Oman, Iran, Guam and Turkmenistan in what could be thought of as an extremely difficult group with Iran favorites to take the top spot.
The qualifying process will also serve as qualifiers for the Asian cup in 2019, so needless to say there is a lot riding on this regarding the future of the Indian football team.
India vs. Oman
India welcomed the Oman side to the Sree Kanteevera stadium in Banglore,with the latter sitting 40 positions ahead of the hosts in the FIFA rankings at 101. The Oman side was captained by Wigan keeper Ali-Al Habsi who boasts of a large amount of Premier League experience. India was being captained by Sandeep Mondal who had his work cut out to rally his troops against an opposition they had never beaten before.
Indian coach Stephen Constantine picked a youthful squad for this one handing international debuts to 4 of the starting XI. India was missing a key name in Sandesh Jhinghan, with the center back missing out due to a shoulder injury. However, the atmosphere inside the stadium was largely upbeat with a moderate turnout there to support the Indian team.
The match started for the home side on a dismal note as the Oman side took the lead inside the first 23 seconds with the Indian team caught napping. Qasim Said just ran through the Indian defense with the center back and left back caught out of position. The goal was like a thunderclap to Indian team, who however tried their best to adopt a positive approach to the game.
The first 15 minutes weren’t that bad for India only if you exclude the goal they conceded. The Oman side had some good opportunities though, but the score remained 1-0. The hosts then started to fade away from the game with Oman taking good possession of the ball and playing it around nicely. The tactical gap between the two teams were clearly visible with the opposition more keen on playing out through the midfield and using quick one two’s while the hosts were content with punting the ball upfront for the Indian forwards Sunil Chettri and Robin Singh to chase. However, on the stroke of the 25 minute, Sunil Chettri came with one hell of goal to level the scores. A simple throw into the box was not completely dealt with by Oman, and a scuffed clearance put the ball at the feet on the Bengaluru FC striker who turned to finish with a peach of a shot into the top corner with his weaker foot from near the edge of the Oman penalty box.
India then played with more intent following a goal, but was taken aback by a penalty decision given for a bad tackle inside the box by Dhanachandra. The penalty had its share of drama too, with Al Housini having to take the penalty twice due infringement by one of his teammates. However, he finished both times to put Oman in the lead. The teams broke for half time with the score 2-1 with the Indian’s trailing by a solitary goal.
Second half was more of the same for both teams; however India seemed more into the game this time. Oman had way too many chances to put the game to bed, but they weren’t clinical in their finishing. They were also denied a couple of times by the Indian goalkeeper Subrata Paul who had a decent game overall.
Then it was time for the focal point of the match which saw the Indians stunning their opponents with a corner routine straight off the training ground. However the goal was ruled offside, sending the whole crowd into disbelief. Robin Singh was adjudged offside for the goal; however replays showed that it went in off an Oman player. Although there was much debate about the goal, Singh was in offside position and clearly interfering with the ball with having to attempt it to flick it off the heel into to the back of the net and thus the decision of the linesman was justified. India also had a half baked penalty shout ruled in the closing minutes.
Sunil Chettri was the man of the match for the men in blue as he looked sharp and was the only real threat to the opposition defense. Paul also had a decent game between the sticks for India, and could not really be blamed for any of the two goals. Jackichand Singh had a good game too and offered an outlet on the right wing at times in 4-4-2 formation. Robin Singh had an off day being involved in a lot offside calls with tall target man unable to time his runs properly.
Having seen the team play on occasions before this one, there has to be said that a marked improvement is clearly visible. The team although lacked experience, but the hunger was visible at times.
The players clearly were most of the times good on the ball and at times were competition for a team superior to them. The shifting was also extremely good and the centre backs barring a few occasions looked perfectly comfortable on the ball. They were also some good link up play between the Bengaluru FC trio of Chettri, Singh and Lynghdoh.
The tactic of putting a long ball upfront was wasteful most of the time, handing possession back to Oman and inviting more pressure. There was large gap between the midfield and the strikers who on most occasions did not have support off the ball against a proper 4 man defense and eventually ended up losing the ball. The midfield lacked creativity and were at times wasteful with possession. Composure was also missing which clearly evident with a lot of players failing to choose the right pass. The defense looked shaky at times with the team missing their first choice center back pairing.
All in all, the team still managed to put on a respectable show and a one or two decision their way, they could have clearly gone away with a draw at the very least, with the initial lapse of concentration turning out to be undoing for team India.
India 1 – 2 Oman
India play Guam next in a away fixture on the 16th of June before the Asian powerhouse Iran visit India for their away fixture against the Team Blue.