World Cup qualifier: Al Mandhar's late strikes sink India

Oman's Al Mundhir bagged a brace late in the second half to steal the victory from India in spite of skipper Sunil Chhetri opening the scoring.

Chhetri reflects on lost opportunity as India conceded its lead and the match in the last five minutes against Oman   -  RITU RAJ KONWAR

Two late goals, aided by defensive errors, saw Oman come from behind to take all three points in the first Group E FIFA World Cup qualifying match against India at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in Guwahati on Thursday.

With both teams playing their first official game under new management, they were happy to exchange possession early on and settle down.

India 1-2 Oman: As it happened

At home and in front of a boisterous crowd, India upped the ante and stayed in control for most of the first half.

Short, quick passes helped rotate the possession and tire the Oman players. The midfield pivot of Anirudh Thapa and Rowllin Borges were at the centre of everything good India did. They stayed in continuous communication with the defence when India was on the backfoot and in telepathic understanding with the forwards when on the ball.

Five minutes into the game, a hopeful long ball found Ashique Kuruniyan, who ran down the left-wing and crossed into the box. With Chhetri nowhere close, the Oman defence cleared with little pressure. That run did set the tone for the rest of the half though.

A minute later, Ali Al Busaidi's chip found Abdulaziz Al Maqbali in the box but his left-footed shot on the turn was palmed away by Gurpreet Singh Sandhu.

Ashique's pace was too much to handle for Oman in the first half. PHOTO: RITU RAJ KONWAR

At the quarter-hour mark, the ball fell to Sunil Chhetri after the Oman goalkeeper made an error from his goal kick. With the keeper off his line, Chhetri found Udanta on the right but, after skipping a challenge, he saw his shot bounce off the bar and away from any waiting teammate.

Minutes later, Ashique ran behind the Oman defence once again. With the keeper running to the edge of the box, he chipped in a cross but found no takers.

Twenty-four minutes in, Ashique attacked the visitor's right-back Abdulaziz Al Gheilani once again, was promptly brought down and a yellow card followed.

From the freekick, Chhetri ran out of the crowd in the box, latched onto Brandon Fernandes' pass along the floor and smacked a left-foot shot into the goal. There was nothing the 'keeper could have done to save that.

India had the lead and for the rest of the half, India poked and probed but Oman held tight.

The second half saw the visitor come out on the front foot. They were more confident in possession, avoided the Indian press and settled down for the first time in the game.

India was happy to defend and hold onto the lead, which eventually played into the hands of the opposition with more than a half left. And when the equaliser came, it wasn't a surprise.

Oman players run into celebrate with Al Mandhar (15), who scored a brace. PHOTO: PTI

The defensive mistakes that hounded India during the King's Cup and Intercontinental Cup were back again. Moshin Al Khalid's pass found the Indian defence stranded. Al-Mandhar Al Alawi brought down the ball, saw Gurpreet come off his line and chipped it into an empty net.

Back on level terms and with the upper hand, Oman pressed to find a late winner.

On the ninety-minute mark, Al Alawi ran down the left-wing and he danced his way past Rahul Bheke to fire in a curler into the top corner.

India's defensive frailties, of much talk in the build-up to this game, almost left like a deja vu. Oman will be happy with the three points but India has little time to regroup before taking on Qatar on September 10.

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