CAPTAIN Sunil Chhetri’s splendid first-half strike went in vain as India surrendered a one-goal advantage to lose 1-2 to Oman in their opening fixture of the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers, here on Thursday. The 87-ranked Oman turned it around in the last eight minutes of regulation time by scoring twice through Rabia Alawi Al Mandhar, leaving the hosts distraught. India were left to rue the missed chances in the first half after a spirited second half performance from the visitors saw them secure full three points. “It just happened. We were punished twice for mistakes.
So late in the game to lose the point which would have left us in a good position to fight for the second place until the end,” India coach Igor Stimac said after the match, which also served as 2023 Asian Cup Qualifications. Chhetri found it difficult to accept after they took the lead. “It is difficult to swallow. I think we didn’t keep the ball in the second half. It’s not easy if we keep giving the ball to a team like Oman. That’s something we need to work on.
The boys fought really well,” Chhetri said. The 35-year-old Chhetri, international football’s second highest scorer among active players, pushed India ahead in the 24th minute with his 72nd strike. However, Alawi Al broke Indian hearts when he flicked the ball past Gurpreet Singh Sandhu to restore parity in the 90th minute. More disappointment was in store for the 103-ranked India as striker Alawi Al completed his brace in the 89th minute. India dominated the first half with more shots at opposition goal and also enjoyed possession.
Ashique Kuruniyan, who returned to the team after missing the Kings Cup and Intercontinental Cup due to injury, created problems for the Oman defence with his pace and trickery in the left channel. Following one such run down the left flank in the 24th minute, he was fouled by Abdulaziz Al Ghailani and India got a free kick on the left edge of the box. Brandon Fernandes took the set piece, sent a grounder in the middle of the box and Chhetri fooled his marker to drill a left-footer into the Oman net, much to the celebration of a vociferous crowd. Before that, India were denied lead in the 15th minute when Udanta Singh’s shot off a Chhetri pass beat the Omani goalkeeper but it struck the crossbar, to the dismay of the home side.