The Blue Tigers suffered their second defeat of the qualifying campaign after delivering an extremely disappointing performance.

India lost their must-win 2022 FIFA World Cup and 2023 AFC Asian Cup joint-qualifier 0-1 against Oman. The defeat virtually ends any hopes of them finishing among the top-two teams in the group. The difference on the night was Mohammed Al-Ghassani’s first half goal, which the visitors failed to overturn in the rest of the match.

The Blue Tigers were lethargic in all departments and looked bereft of ideas in the final third. The onus was on the visiting team to muster up a challenge, but they ended up collecting their second defeat of the qualifying campaign from the same opponents.

Here are the main talking points from Oman’s second triumph over India, which has put them in the driving seat to go into the final qualifying round:

5. Has Igor Stimac failed to channel his tactics to the players?

The Indian team delivered one of their most disappointing performances in recent times, on a night where they had to win at all costs. Their lack of chemistry and composure on the ball was quite visible. There was a certain disconnect between the midfielders and attackers. That lead to huge gaps between the players, which were aptly exploited by the opposition.

This resulted in India failing to create any goalscoring opportunities of note and it looks like Igor Stimac has failed to instil his passing philosophy into the players. On several occasions, the midfielders played backward passes, leading to the defenders playing long aerial balls, which were easily dealt with by Oman’s rearguard. Seven months into the job, it seems the team is still a “work in progress” under the Croatian tactician.

4. Did individual errors emerge as India’s main downfall?

Oman were less than impressive themselves on the night. They could not find their usual rhythm and were looking frustrated by the lack of efficiency in their build-up play. However, India themselves lacked composure and unforced errors made it easier for Oman to dominate the game.

For instance, the first goal was only scored after Indian players failed to clear their lines on two occasions and failed to control the ball in their own half. This led to Mohsin Jouhar pouncing on a loose ball and  producung a penetrating through-pass for the goal. An earlier penalty conceded by Rahul Bheke could have made things worse, but Al-Ghassani’s wayward finishing let the Blue Tigers off the hook.

3. Should the Indian tactician have brought on Anirudh Thapa instead of Vinit Rai?

Stimac was forced into an early substitution, when Pronay Halder had to be taken off with a dead shoulder after a collision with an opponent. The tactician decided to bring on Vinit Rai, who seemed to lack match temperament and looked rough around the edges. The Odisha FC player was the guilty party for a series of errors that led to the goal, as his miscontrolled ball led to the shift in possession in a dangerous area.

It can be argued that a better alternative could have been Anirudh Thapa, who seems to have fallen down in the pecking order in recent times. He is a better passer of the ball and has a better work-rate. Thapa could have supported Brandon Fernandes better, as he ended up being the sole playmaker for India from midfield.

2. Did questionable refereeing decisions put the visitors under added pressure?

Not only were India up against a tough Oman side who were backed by a roaring home crowd, the visitors were also on the receiving end of some questionable refereeing decisions. On several occasions, Nivon Ghamini, the referee from Sri Lanka, made inconsistent calls and penalized Indian players rather harshly. However, in stark contrast, he pardoned the hosts for similar challenges.

To put things into context, Adil Khan and Pronay Halder were booked for their first fouls on the night, but an opposition midfielder was let-off for a similar tackle from behind on Udanta Singh during a counter-attack. Moreover, the linesman on the right side too had a shambolic night. Not only did he fail to notice the offside leading up to the goal, but he also gave an offside in the second half against Udanta, when there was none.

1. Why did Igor Stimac select Pronay Halder and Adil Khan despite knowing they had been carrying injuries?

Fans of the Indian football team expected a few changes in the lineup, since it was known that players like Adil Khan and Pronay Halder were carrying knocks from the recent game against Afghanistan. Despite their questionable match-fitness, the players in question were chosen by the head coach to start. This was a huge risk on the part of Stimac, which went horribly wrong from the getgo.

Halder looked empty and went off in the early stages of the game due to a dead shoulder, while Adil Khan pulled his left hamstring right after the first goal, forcing the Croatian to make a second change within the first half of the match. These forced changes completely wrecked the gameplan for the Blue Tigers.

It begs to be wondered why the tactician chose to risk unfit players in such a crucial game? Either he did not have faith in the options available on the bench or he failed to anticipate the seriousness of the injuries the players were carrying. In the end, even Rahul Bheke had to be taken off, leading to all three changes on the night being spent on injured players.