India men's football team reaches Guwahati ahead of FIFA World Cup qualifier against Oman

India takes on Oman in its opening FIFA World Cup qualifier on Thursday (September 5) in Guwahati.

India captain Sunil Chhetri arrives in Guwahati ahead of the World Cup qualifier against Oman.   -  AIFF

The Indian senior men's team reached Guwahati on Monday (September 2) ahead of the FIFA World Cup qualifier match against Oman on Thursday (September 5). The match kicks off India's FIFA World Cup 2022 qualifying campaign, and also the joint-qualification process for the AFC Asian Cup China 2023.

A majority of the players in the Indian squad labelled Guwahati as a special venue for them, with Sandesh Jhingan and Pritam Kotal having made their international debuts at the venue in 2015, when India took on Nepal in the qualifiers for the World Cup qualifiers.

The squad headed to Guwahati after a preparatory camp in Goa on August 20. 

Local boy Vinit Rai, who was born in Duliajan in the Dibrugarh district of Assam, added that he hopes that a victory against Oman will help the “ease the pain for people in Assam, after a number of people lost their lives due to floods in the state.”

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“The entire squad was so much concerned about the floods in Assam. They kept enquiring every day,” he stated.

“It’s so significant for me to come back to Guwahati, that too with the national team. The whole team is looking forward to playing against Oman. I remember when we faced them in 2015 in Bengaluru, where we gave them a tough fight. Prior to the AFC Asian Cup 2019, we played a draw against them in a friendly match as well, which is positive as far as our record with them is concerned,” he added.

Upon arrival, Sandesh recalled his international debut in Guwahati as the "best memory of his life".

"Guwahati will always remain special for me. I always dreamt of playing for India, and it eventually became possible in Guwahati where I made my International debut. Coming to Guwahati is always like a homecoming for me,” the defender said.

“In fact, there is more to that. I even scored my first international goal against Laos in Guwahati. I still remember the goal, and it was so satisfying to have contributed to a massive 6-1 victory on that day, and advance to the next round of the AFC Asian Cup qualifiers, the continental championship which we eventually qualified for,” Sandesh recollected.

Wingback Pritam Kotal could not hide his excitement either.

"Guwahati will always occupy a special place in my heart. As a player, I made my international debut in Guwahati. My baptism started here. How can I ever forget this place? The Guwahati link will always stay in me,” he said.

“You know, I am a bit superstitious. The national team has had a good record in Guwahati and the city has never left us empty-handed. Hopefully, we shall be able to continue the positive run. It has been a tough time for people in Assam recently and we will give our all to make amends for the pain they have suffered."

In the last two matches at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in Guwahati, the Blue Tigers have grabbed two wins - against Nepal (2-0) and Laos (6-1).

The 27-member preliminary squad so far:

GOALKEEPERS: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Amrinder Singh, Kamaljit Singh, Vishal Kaith.

DEFENDERS: Rahul Bheke, Nishu Kumar, Pritam Kotal, Anas Edathodika, Sandesh Jhingan, Narender Gahlot, Sarthak Golui, Adil Khan, Subhasish Bose, Mandar Rao Dessai.

MIDFIELDERS: Nikhil Poojary, Udanta Singh, Anirudh Thapa, Raynier Fernandes, Vinit Rai, Sahal Abdul Samad, Rowllin Borges, Brandon Fernandes, Lallianzuala Chhangte, Ashique Kuruniyan.

FORWARDS: Balwant Singh, Sunil Chhetri, Manvir Singh.