After three draws and a loss, the Indian men’s football team now travel to Oman knowing they need a win to stay in the race for a spot at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
While many in the media have been critical of Igor Stimac’s side for squandering chances against lower-ranked opposition, Indian goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu believes there are plenty of positives for his side to take from the previous few games.
“Right now, not losing a game away from home is a bigger priority. It’s always more difficult to play away from home. Unfortunately, we could not grab all three points against Afghanistan but I am really happy with how the boys didn’t give up until the last minute,” said Sandhu in an exclusive interview with the Olympic Channel.
The Oman challenge
India’s next game is against Oman — a team that is ranked 84th in the world and got the better of the Blue Tigers in the reverse fixture back home. Despite that, Gurpreet is relishing the prospect of facing Oman on their own turf and believes that his side could get a positive result if they can take the attack to the opposition and try to tire them out.
“It is for sure an exciting game against Oman. We are looking forward to this next challenge and hopefully, we can put up a good show and try to get the best out of it,” he said while going on to add, “When you are facing a quality side like Oman in their home, it is very important to recognise their threat and make sure we diffuse it. I think if we try to play the longer game, we will have a better chance of getting something out of it against Oman.”
Apart from their opposition, India’s primary concern would be at the heart of their defence, as they are still without the talismanic Sandesh Jhingan, currently recovering from his knee injury.
The 26-year-old defender was brilliant in India’s hard-fought draw against Qatar and in his absence, India have failed to keep a clean sheet in their subsequent games.
Speaking on the situation, Gurpreet said, “Not having Sandesh in our team right now is a big, big blow for us. He was a very important part of the national team. But things like that happen in football. We just need to make sure that we are ready for that and the players who fill in for him take the same kind of responsibility and help the team. I am pretty confident about the replacements.”
Oman are currently nestled in second place in World Cup qualifying Group E, one point behind leaders - and 2022 hosts - Qatar.
India coach Igor Stimac has hinted at making changes for the upcoming qualifier in Muscat as the visitors look to pull of a spectacular surprise.
The game will be the last qualifier for India until next March, when they will entertain Qatar.