Reviewing India's performance after it suffered a morale-denting 2-1 FIFA World Cup Group E qualifier defeat to Oman in Guwahati on Thursday, captain Sunil Chhetri rued the team's inability to keep ball possession having taken the lead early in the first half.
Chhetri's 24th-minute goal, assisted by Brandon Fernandes, put India 1-0 up and it had at least three other chances in the half to give itself a greater cushion.
A re-energised Oman side, however, outplayed India in the second half, in which it capitalised on the consistent turnovers. Al-Mandhar Al Alawi held off Rahul Bheke's challenge to score the equaliser and, in the 90th minute, curled the ball into the top-right corner to give Oman a winning start to its World Cup Qualifying campaign.
"It is difficult to swallow [the defeat]," said Chhetri. "I think we didn't keep the ball in second half. It's not easy if we keep giving the ball to a team like Oman. That's something we need to work on. The boys fought really well, [but] we should have seen out the game. It wasn't easy but after the first goal we probably should have held the ball better."
The Indian captain and record goal-scorer conceded that defending for long periods against a team of Oman's qualities is not easy.
"The mentality probably set in that we had to hold the 1-0 lead. It is not easy though against a side who pass and move the ball well. There were many crosses."
Looking ahead of the second World Cup Qualifying fixture against Qatar on August 10, Chhetri said, "It will be the most difficult match of the group [away to Qatar next week]. As a team we need to go and give whatever we have. We need to keep fighting and not make the small mistakes which cost us the points."