Bengaluru, June 10: Oman renew their quest to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup football with a qualifying game (starts at 7 PM IST) against India at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium here on Thursday.
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Oman, 101 in the FIFA rankings, narrowly missed a berth to last year's Brazil World Cup, losing 0-1 to Jordan in their final group game, and given their pedigree, the visitors are expected to put it across India, who are 141 in the FIFA pecking order.
Though India will be playing at home in their opening Group D game, the hosts face a difficult task against Oman, who have won two of the four previous meetings, losing only once while drawing the other.
The last time the two teams clashed was in Muscat in February 2012 when Oman won the friendly 5-1, a victory they would be keen to repeat while India would be drawing some confidence from their 2-0 and 0-0 results against Nepal in the first round.
The luck of the draw has pitted India in the same group as Iran, who are ranked 41, besides lowly Turkmenistan (173) Guam (174). With two teams to qualify for the next round, India will have to play out of their skins to make any progress.
Former France international Paul Le Guen, who took charge of Oman four years ago, said recently: "I will not take India lightly but I believe we will progress from this group without much hiccups. My immediate aim is to target the top-two places in Group D. Team manager Mohammed Al Alawi had visited the Sree Kanteerava Stadium recently and found the surface uneven and bumpy, and that worries me."
As for India, the pressure to perform is omnipresent and the Subrata Pal-led side will be required to up their game against the Arab nation, who appear primed for the contest.
"In these kinds of contests like World Cup Preliminary Qualifiers, ideally we would like to win home games. Anyway beating teams like Iran, Turkmenistan and others, at home or away is difficult," said India coach Stephen Constantine.
Constantine, in his second tenure as the national coach after a 10-year gap, also pointed out that he has had very little time to prepare the side which he took over only a few weeks back.
"Oman has been a very good side for a very long time. You don't go to Asian finals if you are not a good side. Our boys will be under pressure playing against Oman. They have to deal with pressure," said Constantine.
"We have new players and it takes time to make them understand what we need, but there is no point crying about it. We want to do as good as we can in short span that we have."
The outcome of Thursday's game is likely to hinge largely on midfield supremacy. India will have to work hard to contain the mercurial Omanese led by goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi who has represented Wigan in the English Premier League.
The Omanese threat comes mainly from Abdul Aziz Al Muqbali, who has scored 15 goals for the national team, with support from the experienced Imad Al Hosni, who has struck 36 goals in 112 appearances.
In the midfield, Oman would be dependent on Ahmed 'Kano' Mubarak, who can be dangerous whenever he joins the attack. The 30-year old Mubarak has scored 12 goals.
India would be hoping that their two lead strikers Sunil Chhetri and Robin Singh will strike top form and their midfield manned by the likes of Eugeneson Lyngdoh, Jackichand Singh and C.K. Vineeth, among others, will hold tight.
Thus, on paper, Oman appear well-placed to pull off a win while the India should be pleased if they can even force a draw.