Guwahati (Assam): India lost to Oman 2-1 in the opening group E match of the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium here on Thursday.
The Blue Tigers’ skipper Sunil Chhetri opened the scoring, but Oman made their comeback in the last 10 minutes when Al-Mandhar Al Alawi struck a goal to win the match for the away side.
The Indian team had their first chance around the quarter-hour mark, when Anirudh Thapa intercepted a ball in the middle, played it to Chhetri, who put Udanta through. The winger jinked past an Oman defender and ball hit the cross-bar.
It was a combination of Brandon Fernandes and Sunil Chhetri from the resulting free-kick, as they worked-out a set-piece straight from the training ground.
Brandon drilled it in hard and low for Chhetri, who lost his marker and planted the sweetest of left-footers into the bottom corner, sending the partisan crowd into ecstasy.
With a couple of minutes left for the half-time whistle, Oman captain Ahmed Al Mahaijri had the golden opportunity to level for his team. A cross played from the right flank found Mahaijri on the other end of it, as the Oman captain went in with a powerful header. However, India goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu put in a strong hand to parry it away from point-blank range; Mahaijri failed to hit the target on a rebound.
Igor Stimac’s boys played with a much more cautious approach after the change of ends, and the equaliser nearly came from the most unexpected sources – a miscued clearance by Thapa. However, Gurpreet was on hand again, to tip it over the bar. The 27-year-old Sandhu bailed India out again a few minutes later when he calmly collected a precise free-header by Abdulaziz Al Maqbali.
On the hour-mark, Stimac decided to add some pace to the wings, as he brought on Lallianzuala Chhangte in place of Brandon Fernandes. While Oman attempted to get the equaliser, Sunil Chhetri tried to use Chhangte’s pace as he played the youngster through on the counter. However, he scuffed his eventual shot.
Oman left it late, but they came back in the last 10 minutes when Al-Mandhar Al Alawi scored two to win it for Oman. For their first goal, Al-Mandhar was played into the India box via a lofted through ball, as the attacker dinked it over Gurpreet to equalise.
The 24-year-old struck the winner on last minute of regulation time, as he cut in from the left and rifled his shot into the back of the net.
India will now face Qatar in their second match at Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium in Doha on September 10.