India’s World Cup dreams end as Oman clinch narrow win

Muhsen Al-Ghassani scored the lone goal of the game that made all the difference for India’s World Cup hopes.

By Saurabh Shankar ·

A solitary goal from forward Muhsen Al-Ghassani in the first half at Muscat’s Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex was enough to end India’s dreams of qualifying for the FIFA 2022 World Cup.

Unlike the last couple of games, there was no late goal to save India as Oman’s backline remained solid and helped get the hosts over the line.

With their World Cup dreams quashed, the Blue Tigers now focus on finishing in the top three to make the cut for the Asian Cup when international football returns in March 2020.

Attacking line-up

With their qualification for the FIFA 2022 World Cup on the line, coach Igor Stimac made his intentions clear by fielding an attacking side with three recognised strikers in their starting line-up. Despite India’s attacking prowess, it was host Oman who had the first chance of the game, earning a slightly contentious penalty in the opening minutes.

The penalty however was blazed over by Muhsen Al-Ghassani, as the score remained goalless. India’s high defensive line was caught out a couple of times by a few long, racking balls but the Omani forwards scuffed their shots.

India’s first big chance of the game came through a free kick, as a well-weighted ball from Brandon Fernandes found an unmarked Sunil Chhetri, but his shot lacked any venom. That miss from Chhetri proved to be costly, as Oman hit the front soon after with Al-Ghassani atoning for his earlier penalty miss.

A snapshot from India’s narrow defeat against Oman. Photo courtesy: AIFF Media

A perfectly timed pass from Mohsin Al-Khaldi completely bisected the Indian defence and found Al-Ghassani, who casually slotted it past a helpless Gurpreet Singh Sandhu to give the hosts the lead. To make matters worse, India were forced into two first-half substitutions in the game, with Pronay Halder and Adil Khan going off due to injuries, replaced by Vinit Rai and Anas Edathodika respectively.

Oman bossed the final few minutes of the first half, creating a few more chances, but India’s backline remained resolute, restricting the damage to a solitary goal as the referee blew for half time.

Keeping the lead

The second half took a while to get going, with the ball meandering around the midfield for the most part in the beginning. The Omani footballers were content with hanging back and keeping their defensive shape, allowing the Indian midfield to hog the possession.

The first big chance post the interval went Oman’s way, as a free kick from a little outside the penalty box forced Gurpreet into a smart, diving save. Following that, it was India’s turn to attack as winger Udanta Singh’s trickery helped him drive into the penalty box, but his subsequent pullback was cleared away by the Omani backline.

Chances were few and far between as the game carried on, with Oman’s rigid backline making it very difficult for India to string a succession of passes in the final third. The hosts themselves looked comfortable with their one-goal lead, with most of their attacks coming courtesy of dead ball situations.

India began committing forward more as the game reached the final ten minutes, with the wingers playing narrow to accommodate for Ashique Kuruniyan and Nishu Kumar in attack. The move almost backfired however, as India were caught cold on the counter and only an outstretched hand from Gurpreet kept the Blue Tigers in the contest.

The save though didn’t amount to much as India’s forwards barely had a sniff at goal in the minutes that followed, succumbing to a 0-1 loss and ending their World Cup aspirations.

India remain fourth in Group E, with three points from their five games so far. Afghanistan are a point ahead, with Oman second closely behind group leaders and 2022 hosts Qatar.