Al Mandhar Rabia netted the equaliser and the winning goal as Oman edged out a fighting India 2-1 in their opening Group E fixture of World Cup Qatar 2022 and Asian Cup China 2023 joint qualification campaign in the north-east Indian city of Guwahati on Thursday.
When it seemed that the hosts were running away with the match with a 1-0 result, it was youngster Al Mandhar who turned the tide against India with two brilliant goals in the span of eight minutes.
It was relentless pressure by much-experienced Oman on Indian goal front in the final 15 minutes of the match as the hosts went deep in defence.
Al Mandhar Rabia was the star for Oman as he slotted home to the top corner of Indian net in the 90th minute to seal the full points for the Red Warriors after a breaking move through the left flank.
In the 82nd minute, the diminutive attacking midfielder had beaten an advancing Indian goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu to place the ball safely into the net for the much-needed equaliser for Oman.
The equalising goal brought cheer to the Oman bench led by head coach Erwin Koeman.
India, who had played an attacking first-half, were seen mostly defending their lone goal in the second half.
India was ahead in the match in the 24th minute, when Oman conceded a free kick near the box.
Brandon Fernandes played a ground ball towards captain Sunil Chhetri who ran away from the defence and slotted it past the net with his left foot in the 24th minute. India took the lead 1-0 as the home crowd of 22,798 celebrated at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in Guwahati.
Oman had some close chances that missed the target as Indian goalkeeper Sandhu was exceptional under the bar with some stunning saves. India came close in the 78th minute with mercurial Chhetri on ball with one-to-one situation with Fayez but the lanky Oman goalkeeper’s diving punch put the danger away.
India’s live-wire midfielder Ashique Kuruniyan was substituted with Manvir Singh in the 77th minute. Mohammed al Ghassani’s well-directed shot was saved with a timely diving by Gurpreet in the 73rd minute. The rebounding ball was cleared out by defender Rahul Bheke.
On the hour-mark, Indian coach Igor Stimac decided to add some pace to the wings, as he brought on Lallianzuala Chhangte in place of Brandon Fernandes.
In the 52nd minute, Sandhu deflected an uncanny clearance from Anirudh Thapa to keep India in the match.
The 27-year-old custodian bailed India out again a few minutes later, when he calmly collected a precise free-header by Abdulaziz al Maqbali.
Two minutes before the half-time whistle, Oman captain Ahmed Mubarak Kanu had the golden opportunity to put the away side level. A cross played from the right flank found Kanu who went in with a powerful header. However, Gurpreet’s quick reflex save parried it away from point-blank range.