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Do or die: India needs a win over Oman

If India lose, they will trail Oman by nine points and they have only three matches — that offer a maximum of nine points — left to play in the second round of the qualifiers.

PTI|
Nov 19, 2019, 07.50 AM IST
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BCCL
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Winless in four games so far in an increasingly disappointing campaign, the Indian football team face higher-ranked Oman in a do-or-die World Cup qualifying round match in Muscat on Tuesday. A first-half strike from Sunil Chhetri gave India hopes of beating Oman in the first leg in Guwahati in September but the Gulf nation struck twice in the final 10 minutes to outwit the home side.

Oman are coming into the match after an emphatic 4-1 win over Bangladesh in Muscat on November 14. India, on the other hand, are struggling after an impressive goal-less draw against Asian champions Qatar. They needed late goals in their identical 1-1 draws against lower-ranked Bangladesh and Afghanistan.

After three draws and a defeat, India are fourth in Group E with three points, while Oman are second with nine points from four matches. Qatar top the table with 10 points from four matches. An upset win over Oman will keep Igor Stimac's side in the hunt for a next round berth but a loss will virtually send India out of the reckoning from the 2022 World Cup qualification.

If India lose, they will trail Oman by nine points and they have only three matches — that offer a maximum of nine points — left to play in the second round of the qualifiers. Even the runner-up sides from the eight groups are not guaranteed an automatic spot in the third round.

A draw against Oman will also make it difficult for India to qualify for the next round. Their next three matches — all to be played next year — are against Qatar (at home on March 26), Bangladesh (away, June 4) and Afghanistan (at home, June 9).

But at least a point against Oman may prove crucial as it will make it easier for India to get an automatic third round berth for the 2023 Asian Cup qualifiers. This campaign is also a joint qualifying round for the 2023 Asian Cup and the third-placed teams and the best four fourth placed teams from the eight groups automatically get a spot in the third round of the qualifiers of the continental championships.

Stimac’s side has struggled not just in defence, but even in offence. India are no longer dependent on only Chhetri to score the goals, but their inability to convert chances has cost them dear. Stimac has no illusion about who the favourite will be on Tuesday, but he is hoping his players will convert the chances coming their way and score goals.

“Oman are much better now than the team we played against in Guwahati. They are the favourites. We know for a fact that the match is going to be very difficult for us,” the Croatian said.
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