The Indian national team will look to kick-start their journey to Qatar with a win.

After two friendly competitions, the real challenges are back. India take on Oman in their first qualifier for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Guwahati on Thursday. The winds have changed, but will they make an imprint? Indian football has seen a change in guard, as a Croatian manager now rides the bus, taking over the reins from Englishman Stephen Constantine.

With Stimac, things have been different. The core of the national team may have remained the same, but new players are playing very important roles now. The injured Amarjit Singh Kiyam will be sorely missed by the Croatian, who has praised the maturity, positioning and passing abilities of the Jamshedpur FC midfielder.

Similarly, Lallianzuala Chhangte, Adil Khan and Rahul Bheke too have been given lifelines to resurrect or create their international careers under the incoming coach, who has devised a style that pleases the eyes, but is yet to be completely effective on the pitch. Flashes of its effectiveness, though, have been shown time and again.

India have Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Oman and Qatar in their group for the qualifiers and earning points at home against the two heavyweights will be key to making it to the third round.

India’s final training session before big game

Coaches’ Corner

Igor Stimac (India)

“None of the teams are unbeatable, we just need to be wise and concentrated and defending well and taking the chances when they come.” Read the pre-match press conference in full here.

Erwin Koeman (Oman)

“Let me tell you football is not easy. It will be a big big mistake if we are thinking we got an easy draw. It’s the worst thing you can think in football. If you think like that, you will lose.” Read the pre-match press conference in full here.

About The Teams

INDIA

India’s probable lineup against Oman in their FIFA World Cup 2022 Qualifiers opener on Thursday

There are very few 18-year-olds across the world who would be so talked about if they’re out of their national teams, but one of them certainly is Kiyam. The boy from Thoubal has been a central figure in Stimac’s plans. Now, either of Vinit Rai or Raynier Fernandes will have to step up and make good of their chance.

Jeje Lakpekhlua is still out recuperating, but Ashique Kuruniyan is back and running. The winger may not be match fit, but can be expected to be given a run later in the game to influence proceedings with his sheer pace.

India can be expected to play a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 system that will ideally transform into a three-at-the-back defensively, with Sahal Abdul Samad expected to play as the highest placed midfielder in the central pivot. Sunil Chhetri is expected to play the #9, with Udanta Singh and Lallianzuala Chhangte supporting him from the right and left respectively.

In the backline, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu will be shielded by Sandesh Jhingan and Adil Khan centrally, with Subhashish Bose and Rahul Bheke looking the likely choices as full-backs. India will need to outperform themselves to eke out a point from this encounter. If they pull off a win, it will be their first against Oman in 25 years.

OMAN

India are not the only team to be in transition; Oman are undergoing a mini-change themselves. Under new manager Erwin Koeman, they are trying to keep the ball on the ground for the most part, with swift counter-attacks. The team possesses an innate ability to dominate set-pieces, given the physicality of the players.

Koeman has retained the 4-4-2 style the team comfortably uses, but is slowly moving to a more diverse 4-2-3-1, on the lines of the Dutch system of adding more men to the midfield.

Oman’s probable lineup against India

The team reached the knockout stages of the AFC Asian Cup 2019 earlier this year, their first such foray. Oman displayed some verve in their Round of 16 clash against Iran, but eventually perished 2-0. The team haven’t lost in their last five games, winning four of them. This would be a worrying stat for India, clearly stating the Reds’ form.

Here’s a calming stat then – India and Oman played out a goalless draw in December last year, as India prepared for the Asian competition. Both teams will look to start at the right note – India will want to eke out a point, while Oman will come for three.


Editor’s Pick: India capable of upsetting Oman in FIFA World Cup qualifying opener- Igor Stimac


Watch Igor Stimac and Sunil Chhetri’s press conference here

Tactics

India  

The Indian team can be expected to play a system that will continuously adapt according to the situation, both in the middle of the park as well as up top. Defensively, Rai will have a major role positionally, as well as in controlling India’s build-up with the ball on the ground, something that Stimac has harped upon regularly. 

India Vs Oman : Tactics that can help India break Oman’s resilience

Sahal and Chhetri will have to interchange positions wisely, with the captain shouldering the extra workload of trying to create an understanding with the Kerala Blasters midfielder and Anirudh Thapa. Udanta and Chhangte must tuck in whenever India’s opposite-sided full-back has the ball, so that a diagonal ball coupled with a diagonal run can break the offside trap and breach the Oman wall.

Oman

The Reds usually play a double-striker system with long balls, but with Koeman coming in, they have added a few tricks to their repertoire. The team are very inclined to play long balls to their burly strikers, who bully their way into the box. India will have to be wary of that and this is exactly where both Jhingan and Adil will be so crucial.

Watch Oman’s full pre-match conference 

Their wing-backs, too, play with a lot of gumption and when the long balls from deep do not work, Oman ask these forward-minded players to put in diagonals into the box. Ahmed Kano will be their inspiration in midfield. The 34-year-old has the ability to create, to score from distance and is an able destroyer of opposition moves when he sits back. India will need to be very, very wary of him.

Probable Lineups

India: Sandhu, Bheke, Jhingan, Adil, Bose, Vinit, Thapa, Sahal, Udanta, Chhetri, Chhangte

Oman: Faiz Al-Rushaidi, Al-Mukhaini, Al-Musalami, Al-Balushi, Al-Busaidi, Al-Yahmadi, Al-Saadi, Ahmed Kano, Raed Saleh, Al-Muqbali, Johar Al-Khaldi

Players To Watch

Vinit Rai (INDIA): Vinit Rai will hold a lot of key inputs from coach Igor Stimac, as his positioning and aerial abilities will stand in between India’s defensive resoluteness. Rai will need to fluently position himself as a third centre-back to a fluid, forward passing midfielder, according to the demand of the situation. The challenge is difficult, but may bring out the best of him, as he clearly has the ability to play the holding role.

Abdulaziz Al Muqbali (Oman): Muqbali stands at 6 feet, is industrious, fast and is everything a coach would want from his target man. He has already scored a brace against India in 2015, during a World Cup qualifier which Oman won 3-0. Muqbali has been in the scheme of things for Koeman and now that the time has come, the 30-year-old will want to make full use of his abilities and experience.

What To Expect

Flashes of brilliance from India, amidst boring dominance from Oman can be expected to be the order of the day on Thursday. Oman will look to keep a clean-sheet again, having managed to do that four times in the last six attempts. India’s fleet-footed forward line can create trouble though, if they play to the best of their abilities. Sahal and Chhetri’s inventiveness and finishing will hold the key for the home side.

Broadcast

The match will be broadcast live on the Star Sports Network on Thursday, starting 7:30 PM IST. It will also be streamed live on Hotstar and Jio TV.