The Blue Tigers lost to Oman on both the occasions in which they faced each other in 2019.

Having last played an international game in November 2019, the Indian football team returns to the arena on March 25 against Oman. Unfortunately for Blue Tigers’ fans, the game is taking place away from home in Dubai. However, the match will be telecasted live in India and the fans will be hoping that their team mark the return with a win.

All things considered, winning against Oman is not easy for India. In 2019, the two teams faced each other twice as part of the FIFA World Cup 2022 Qualifiers as Oman beat the Indians on both occasions. The Blue Tigers lost 1-2 to Oman at home in September, before conceding a 1-0 away defeat two months later.

However, this time, the two teams will face each other in an international friendly. This means that not much will be at stake for both sides and Igor Stimac could look to use it to his advantage to clinch an unexpected win.

About The Teams

India

Watch: How new-look India can lineup against Oman & UAE

The Indian football team head coach Igor Stimac is an advocate of possession and passing-based football and the team will probably use the same tactics against Oman as well. But more on that later.

Speaking about the team, the Blue Tigers will surely miss their captain Sunil Chhetri, who is ruled out of both their upcoming friendlies after contracting COVID-19. In his absence, Stimac has called up some new names into the squad in Ishan Pandita and Liston Colaco. He has also made it clear that he was thoroughly impressed by their performances in the ISL and that they deserved the call-ups.

The average age of the squad currently training in a preparatory camp in Dubai is just 24. The infusion of more young blood into the Blue Tigers’ team will hopefully benefit them as they take on a strong Oman side on Thursday.

Oman

While India haven’t played international football in over a year, the case was similar for Oman as well until recently. They recently ended their long hiatus against Jordan. The game finished 0-0 and it proved that the year-long break has barely affected Oman, especially in case of their defence.

Oman have also shown some good signs of progress over the last few years. They are currently 81st in the FIFA rankings, while India is at 104. The Omani side also recorded their best-ever AFC Asian Cup finish in 2019 when they progressed into the Round of 16.

In the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers, they defeated India, Bangladesh and Afghanistan in the group stages. However, most of these achievements came to them under Dutch coach Erwin Koeman. Since then, Branko Ivankovic has been appointed as the new head coach and facing India will be his second game in charge.

Tactics

India

As mentioned earlier, India head coach Stimac prefers possession and passing-based football. He generally lines his team up in a 4-2-3-1 formation – but with the absence of key players like Chhetri and Brandon Fernandes (injured during ISL), it will not be surprising if he looks for alternative options like 4-4-2 or 4-3-3.

For a team that is returning to the international circuit after 16 months, Oman are very good opponents, especially in a friendly fixture. It gives Stimac the license to try out new things and this, in fact, is the best time to do so. As mentioned already, the new-look Indian side lacks several key figures while also being one of the youngest teams that the appointment of the 53-year-old.

One of the key tactics that the team will look forward to implementing on the pitch would be the creation of more goal-scoring chances. In their most recent 1-0 loss against Oman in November 2019, India barely created chances and had zero shots on target. Hence, this time around, Stimac would be keen to attack more to increase their chances of scoring.

Oman

It goes without saying that Oman are one of the rising teams as far as Asian football are concerned. The numbers and their recent history don’t lie – they are at 81 in the FIFA rankings charts and reached the last-16 round in the most recent AFC Asian Cup.

This being Oman’s second game only under Ivankovic, it is tough to determine how he will field his line-up. However, some things are already known, like the presence of Abdul Aziz Al Muqbali, Muhsen Al-Ghassani and Ahmed Mubarak in the playing squad as they’re some of the Reds’ most important players.

Probable Lineups

India (4-4-2): Sandhu (GK); Mehta, Jhingan, Adil, Mishra; Raynier, Thapa, Borges, Chhangte; Manvir, Pandita.
Alternative Lineup (4-3-3): Sandhu (GK); Mehta, Jhingan, Adil, Mishra; Thapa, Yasir, Borges; Liston, Manvir, Bipin.

Oman (4-2-3-1): Al-Rushaidi (GK); Suhail, Al-Buraiki, Al-Musalami, Al-Busaidi; Al-Saadi, Al-Sheyadi; Al-Khaldi, Mubarak, Rabbo; Al-Muqbali.

Players To Watch

Sandesh Jhingan (India)

Sandesh Jhingan
Sandesh Jhingan’s form will be a key factor for India against Oman

The task of keeping Omani forwards quiet will fall primarily on Sandesh Jhingan’s shoulders. The centre-back had a solid season with ATK Mohun Bagan, reaching the final of the ISL. He has been lucky with injuries and seems to be getting into top form. His performance against Oman’s forwards will be one of the highlights of the game.

His partnership with Adil Khan would be one of the key partnerships to watch out for on Thursday. The duo will definitely face strong challenges from the likes of Al-Muqbali and Ahmed Mubarak who have made it a habit to trouble the opposition defenders.

Abdul Al-Muqbali (Oman)

Abdul Al-Muqbali
India needs to be wary of the threat posed by Abdul Al-Muqbali

Part of Oman’s dangerous forward lineup, Abdul Al-Muqbali can end up being a real pain for the Indian defence to deal with. The bullish centre-forward has also been among Oman’s shining stars in their FIFA World Cup Qualifiers campaign so far and posed big problems against whoever he has faced in the tournament.

He has scored three goals in five appearances so far, including a brace in Al-Ahmar’s 3-0 thumping of Afghanistan in the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers.

Al-Muqbali does not need too many chances to score, being clinical with his crisp finishing skills. In addition, he is also agile enough to pounce on any lapses in concentration from defenders.

What To Expect

An Oman win is what we’re expecting, because of two main reasons – they recently played another friendly while India have been out of touch and the fact that they’re a more experienced side while there are a few new names in the Blue Tigers’ squad.

Nevertheless, it will not be very surprising if India manages to eke out a draw. While all eyes will be on how the Indian defenders will tackles Oman’s attacking department, we also recommend keeping an eye on the likes of Manvir Singh and Ishan Pandita who have it in them to potentially pull a rabbit out of the hat.

Telecast

The match between Oman and India will take place at the Maktoom Bin Rashid Stadium in Dubai. Kick-off will be at 7:15 pm IST (5:45 pm local time). On Tuesday, AIFF confirmed that Thursday’s Oman game and the game against UAE on March 29 will be broadcast live in India on Eurosport.