The countdown has begun.
11th of June 2015. 19:00Hrs.Bengaluru.India Vs Oman. First match in the second round of WC 2018 Qualifiers for India. It is going to be a crunch tie for India from many angles. The big question is, can India defeat Oman or at least snatch a point?!Let us examine.
From a nondescript history, Oman rocket-blasted into the Asian football horizon only in the 1990s. Indian football on the other hand plummeted into the bottom of its history roughly during the same period.
The current FIFA ranking of Oman and India are 101 and 141 respectively. India faced the Red warriors twice in WC qualifiers in 2004.Oman won the away match 5-1 but India managed to pull off a draw in the away match 0-0.The most recent encounter was in 2012 when India was again thrashed 5-1.
However for the past few months, Oman is not in its best of forms. It was battered in the Asian cup 2015 in January by Asian power houses. In preparatory friendlies, Oman was held to a goalless draw by a lower ranked Bahrain on 3th May and on 5th June, another lower ranked Syria beat Oman 2-1. What it signifies that Oman has still some distance to go to be the best even in Asia. A glance at the social networking sites of Omani football will reveal widespread resentment against the French coach. Some fans even predicted a win for India. (https://www.facebook.com/OmanNationalFootballTeam/timeline)
Meanwhile team India is on an upswing and has improved a lot since they last played Oman. Most of the sloths and technically amateurish players, blessed by the previous coach have been replaced by a far fitter and faster lot of hungry youngsters who are hardly afraid of anyone on ground.
So the match is likely to be played without the baggage of history and would definitely be a test of character for the boys in Blue.
Indian football reloaded:
Till date, National team fixtures normally meant no live telecast, sparse crowd consisting mostly of media and security personnel with a few hundred diehard fans. However this time it is a different story altogether. The amount of excitement and enthusiasm that is being witnessed about this match at Bengaluru is unprecedented. The minuscule number of fans who believed that India could make it big in football is growing exponentially each passing day. After the glitzy inaugural edition of the hugely popular Indian Super League and a far improved I-league 2015, expectation is running high. Thousands of guys are hoping against hope for a miracle win by the blue tigers. Sony Six has started airing promos for the match. Various online forums are abuzz with the selection of team and team composition Tickets sales have started online and one is expected to have a full house at Sree Kanteerava stadium. If so, then it will indicate how popular the game of football has really become in cricket crazy India.
Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex in Oman has a capacity of around 34k.All the other stadiums have capacities of less than 15k to below 10k.So it is pretty safe to assume that most of Oman’s players are not used to playing in front of huge crowds. Thus a vociferous, hostile crowd of over 20 thousand might prove to be a factor in a crunch game like this. High humidity of Bengaluru is also going to be a crucial factor. Playing surface of Sree Kateerava is an area of concern for Oman too. Team manager Mohammed Al Alawi had visited the Stadium recently and found the surface “uneven and bumpy”. However all the Indian players are well versed with pitch which will be an added advantage for India.
So it remains to be seen how far India can exploit the home conditions.
Team Oman vis-à-vis team India:
Traditionally West Asian teams are physically stronger than their Indian counter parts. However Oman is an exception. A closer look will reveal that this Indian team has players equally well built if not stronger.
Gurpreet Singh Sandhu -1.97 m, Arnab Mandal- 1.79m, Sandesh Jhingan 1.88m, Dhanachandra Singh- 1.80m, Rino Anto- 1.74m, Dhanpal Ganesh- 1.85m,Robin Singh-1.85m, Lalchhuan Mawia- 1.82, Gurwinder Singh-1.83m , Saityasen Singh -1.78m,Augustin Fernandes- 1.79m,Holicharan Narzary -1.79m are all tall enough to match most of their opponents. Here is a view of Oman player’s heights:
GK-Ali Al Habsi(1.84m),Al Busaidi(1.73m) – Al Musalami (1.75m)–Sallam Amur – Ali Salim(1.65m), Eid Mohammed(1.83m) – Ahmed Kano(1.79m), Raed Ibrahim(1.78m) – Al Hosni(1.81m) – Qasim Said(1.78m), Al Muqbali(1.81m)
Department of Fitness:
Fitness of Indian players has always been an area of concern. However with the improvement of training facilities and introduction of professional trainers, team India has made remarkable progress. As evident from the matches against Nepal or the recently held AFC cup matches. Indian players appeared far fitter than their predecessors. They ran full throttle till the very end. Jackichand Singh, Saityasen Singh, Eugensen Lyngdoh,Sandesh Jhingan or Sehnaj Singh can be as fast as anybody. So this time Oman just might find it tough to run past the Indians unlike previous matches.
Anyone watching I-league 2015 or The ISL season#1 will vouch for the improvements of Indian players as far as the passing or ball possession is concerned. The Omanis are known to play short passes too. It will be really interesting to see how the battle of midfield goes. Expect an all out battle as India is expected to go for pressing football to break up the rhythm of Omanis. Oman, if put under pressure is prone to leaving a lot of open spaces for the opponents. It remains to be seen how Mr. Constantine and his boys take advantage of these loopholes.
Former France international Paul Le Guen, in charge of team Oman, has come under fierce criticism off late for Oman’s recent performances. He has made quite a few changes from the squad which took part in Asian Cup in Januray 2015. Regulars like Jaber Al Owaisi(DF), Al Shatri(DMF),Hassan Mudhafar(LB), Yaqoob Abdul Karim(FW) and Said Al Ruzaiqi(FW) have been axed.
Anyway India needs to watch out for the striker Abdul Aziz Al Muqbali, the set piece master Ahmed ‘Kano’ Mubarak, nippy young wingers, Raed Ibrahim and Qasim Said. Experienced customer Ahmed ‘Kano’ Mubarak is another threat who gets dangerous during his attacking forays.
Meanwhile India would be relying on Mr. Ever Dependable Sunil Chhetri and the brute strength of the mercurial Robin Singh with Saityasen and Jackichand Singh providing ample support. Defence looks solid but availability of the emerging star Sandesh Jhingan might be a dampener as he is carrying a shoulder injury. However the sturdy Dhanachandra Singh’s role will be most crucial along with that of the big kid, Dhanpal Ganesh for quick overlaps and breaking of Oman’s flow. The extremely talented Eugeneson Lyngdoh will have to carry the mantel of midfield.
Oman is obviously the favorite to win the tie. However rest assured that India will come hard at them. It is going to be a test for Mr. Constantine’s acumen as his team selection, leaving out Romeo or Brandon Fernandes and benching Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, has come under a lot of criticism from the fans. If Oman fumbles a bit and India puts up an above par show then an upset win is not all that impossible for India though even a draw is being considered by many to be a respectable result. If so then this surely will be a watershed moment for Indian football.