Stimac laments missed chances: 'We always depend on Chhetri for goals'

For all the attacking play, it was Chhetri the team turned to, to take India across the line and coach Igor Stimac conceded his team doesn't have enough experience in goal-scoring.

Oman players celebrate the winning goal against India.   -  PTI

The defensive mistakes that have been India's undoing early in Igor Stimac's Indian reign came back to punish the team in the first FIFA World Cup Group E qualifier at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in Guwahati on Thursday.

Being in control for the entirety of the first half and taking the lead through a cleverly-worked training ground routine mattered for little with the two late goals conceded.

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"We're very sad. We deserved more from this game. We could have scored many in the first half and finished the game before the break," he said, reflecting on the game. "My players made me proud, the way they fought and ran for 70 minutes. But the game is for 90 minutes, not 70."

Sunil Chhetri put India ahead in the first half but there was little threat to the Oman goal from elsewhere. For all the attacking play, it was Chhetri the team turned to, to take it across the line.

"We didn't have enough experience in scoring. We always depend on Sunil for goals," he said, before adding, "But I can't blame anyone. The players gave their all."

On what went wrong in the final minutes, he said, "The defence was losing its shape and that (the closing minutes) was the time we need to be patient. Keep possession, hold onto the lead and wait for counters. We didn't and we paid the price."

In the end, what made the difference was the experience Oman had. India looked the fitter side but the visitor made its few chances count.

"My players, they can run. But this loss is about experience, not fitness. From the 70th minute mark, we made the mistake of running too much without passing. We should've made the opponent run and chase, we didn't," he said.

When the equaliser came, Stimac couldn't believe it as his team had prepared for Mohsin Al Khaldi's influence in the Oman team.

"I expected him (Mohsin) to start, we knew he is very dangerous. We prepared for it," he said. "He didn't start but when he came on all I wanted was for my team to close (down) his left leg. I told Manvir (Singh) and Sunil to stay on him."

They didn't, he ran free and a delightful left-foot ball over the top broke India.

"Silly goal to concede (Oman's first). They did not work hard for it, we made the mistake."

READ | Chhetri: After first goal, we lost possession too many times

With India's toughest game, away to Qatar, coming up in five fays, there isn't much time to regroup. But the Croatian believes that his team is already over the Oman result and is looking forward to the game on September 10.

Changes in offing for Qatar

"Motivating? Done. We start preparing (for Qatar) from this moment. They are the strongest team and have he strongest league in Asia."

On what to expect from India, he said, "We will change four or five players, will see how they are. But we have no reason to fear, we will try to play good football and try to score."

A second successive second-round World Cup qualifying campaign begins with a 2-1 loss to Oman at home but Stimac stressed on the need to "be realistic" in expectations.

"Football works in steps, it is not magic. It takes time. Step-by-step we build a new India. Our aim is for (2023) Asian Cup. We will learn from these qualifiers and be ready for 2026 (World Cup qualifiers)."

"We have already started the process. You could see a new Indian team, absolutely different from before. This is the way to work, slowly," he said, adding, "Soon, we will finish such games. And win."

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