India fell to a 1-2 defeat to Oman in its home leg of the World Cup qualifier. Gurpreet Singh Sandhu was crest fallen after a superb effort in the 80 minutes of the match. It was a crushing defeat for India, which looked like it might bag a huge win before crumbling in the end. Since then, India has drawn its next three matches against Qatar, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. The match against Qatar was a goalless draw.
As India prepares to take on Oman at the Al-Seeb Stadium in Oman, here's a list of four talking points from the last time the two teams met at the Indira Gandhi Athletics Stadium in Guwahati on September 5, 2019.
Defensive frailties on show again
One of the big talking points in the build-up to this match was India's weak defence. In the five matches at the King's Cup and the Intercontinental Cup, the team had conceded 13 goals with most of them down to mistakes at the back. Four of those were let in with 20 minutes left on the clock.
Two more were conceded in the same period against Oman.
While India dominated the first half and took a deserved lead through Sunil Chhetri, the defence was caught napping on two occasions. First, by Ali Al Busaidi's chip to Abdulaziz Al Maqbali, and later by Raed Saleh's cross into the box. On both occasions, India needed Gurpreet Singh Sandhu at his athletic best to keep Oman at bay.
Midfield pair gelling well
On the eve of the match, both Chhetri and head coach Igor Stimac had discussed the impact of Amarjit Singh Kiyam — ruled out due to a hand injury — on the team; what his absence meant.
The performance of Rowllin Borges and Anirudh Thapa against Oman raised hopes. It is safe to say that the 18-year-old need not be rushed back to the team. The pair, playing in a pivot, complemented each other. Rowllin was a defensive rock in the first half while Thapa kept things ticking for India.
When defending, they stayed in constant communication with the centre-backs and when in possession, they knew exactly where their team-mates are. The duo had the composure to keep the ball out when chased down by the opponent. Ashique Kuruniyan and Udanta Singh were regularly found, throughout the first half, with simple long balls.
Not a one-man show
When playing against India, most of the opponents plan their game around Chhetri. Contain the captain and you contain the team. Well, not anymore. The trio of Ashique, Udanta and Brandon Fernandes stretched the Oman defence with ease. With pace to burn, they played on the shoulders of the last defender for the most part and broke free on occasions. All they lacked was the finishing touch.
Ashique, in particular, looked excellent in his link-up play with the skipper.
Lack of a successor
"We didn't have enough experience in scoring. We always depend on Sunil for goals," Stimac said after the game. That seems to be the case irrespective of which coach is in charge of India or what tactics are employed. Of the eight goals scored under the Croatian, five have been scored by the skipper. For all the attacking play by those around him, no one threatens the opposition goal like Chhetri does.
The worrying part is the lack of a successor in the Indian ranks. I. M. Vijayan had Bhaichung Bhutia, who was then followed by Chhetri. But who next?
Last season in the Indian Super League, there were only 38 Indians who entered the scoreboard. Of them, six were defenders, 19 midfielders and 13 strikers. With nine goals, Chhetri was the highest-scoring Indian – seven behind golden boot winner Ferran Corominas. In the top ten scores, only two other Indians appear, Lallinzuala Chhangte and Udanta Singh, and neither are strikers.
Chhetri has also been the highest-scoring Indian in three of the four ISL seasons he played in.
The I-League is worse off when it comes to Indian scorers. Pedro Manzi and Willis Plaza scored 21 goals each while Jobby Justin, the Indian with the best output, scored just nine.
Following were the starting XIs for both teams from the last encounter.
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