Oman will hope for a winning start against hosts India when they kick start their World Cup Qatar 2022 and Asian Cup China 2023 qualifying campaign in north-east Indian city of Guwahati on Thursday.
The Group E match of the joint qualification will kick off at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in Asam capital of Guwahati at 6 pm (Oman Time).
Oman, who are 87 in Fifa rankings, are in no mood to relax against the 103-ranked Indians, whom they had faced in the past qualifying campaigns.
The two teams were part of the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 with the ‘Red Warriors’ advancing to their first ever knockout stage of the Continental showpiece, while India missed out closely on Round of 16 with a last-minute penalty defeat against Bahrain.
Oman’s new coach Erwin Koeman would in all earnest want to keep up with the good work of his Dutch predecessor Pim Virbeek.
Last week, Oman managed a friendly win over Yemen with captain Ahmed Mubarak ‘Kanu’ netting the winner towards the end of the match.
The Sultanate team had a smooth transition from Virbeek to Koeman by winning four of the five matches they have played since the Dutchman took charge.
Koeman will no doubt aim for full points on the board for the West Asians ahead of a gruelling campaign.
INDIA ‘WELL PREPARED’
India head coach Igor Stimac stated that his team is up ready and “well prepared” to meet the challenge.
“The preparations for the game went really well and as a coach, I am happy. This will be our third campaign and I am happy with the improvement in the team in terms of the understanding levels of the players and their fitness levels. We are well concentrated and well prepared,” he told a pre-match press conference.
The last meeting between the two teams was in a friendly match in December last year that ended in a goalless draw. Talking about the upcoming task, the Croatian mentioned that the team will look to be “strong and organised” on the pitch.
He added: “Our aim for tomorrow will be to be strong and organised. In our previous games, we have shown that we can handle good teams and play organised for the full 90 minutes. We may have conceded a few goals but we have shown that we can play better against better opponents’’.
Talismanic forward Sunil Chhetri, who has scored 71 goals in 111 appearances for the Blue Tigers, stated that there is a “pulse of excitement” in the team with just one day to go for the crucial game.
“There is a great eagerness in the team and one really feel the pulse of excitement among the boys. We are really looking forward to the game. We had a great training camp and everyone in the team is fit and hungry. The players are gelling well and responding to what the coach expects from them,” Sunil told AII India Football Federation website.
The Blue Tigers proceed to the match on back of a preparatory camp in Goa which kicked-off on August 20. The team has also played 5 international matches as build-up to the tournament since Igor Stimac took over.
“A lot has changed, we have a new squad, new set of players and a different coach. On the pitch, we are trying to implement the style of play asked by the coach and put our best foot forward. Off the pitch, it has been pretty much the same, which is a good thing as you want to continue the good things that have been happening off the field,” Arjuna award-winning Indian goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu said.
In another Group E match, World Cup hosts Qatar will take on Afghanistan in Doha. Qatar’s aim will be to get the first phase of defending the AFC Asian Cup title they won emphatically in February completed by next June — which they will if they top Group E.
With their place in the Fifa World Cup Qatar 2022 sealed, the West Asians look more than capable of navigating past their opponents in Group E.