Oman faces India test

Oman players train ahead of Thursday’s match against India in the Indian city of Guwahati on Wednesday


Oman starts as favourite in its opening FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and AFC Asian Cup China 2023 second round qualifying campaign against hosts India on Thursday but its coach, Erwin Koeman of the Netherlands, knows that it wouldn't be an easy task when the two teams lock horns in the north-eastern Indian city of Guwahati on Thursday.

The Group E match kicks off at 6pm, Oman time. Koeman's Oman is currently ranked 87th and an intense challenge lies for the Red Warriors against the 103rd-ranked hosts at the Indira Gandhi International Stadium.

Both Oman and India had featured in the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019. While Oman advanced to its first-ever appearance in the knockout stage of the continental showpiece under another Dutchman, Pim Verbeek, India missed out on the last-16 spot after having opened its campaign with a
stunning win over Thailand.

Both teams have new head coaches, with Koeman leading Oman and Croatia's Igor Stimac in charge of India. Koeman has enjoyed a smooth start, as Oman has won four of the five matches it has played since the Dutchman took charge and his target will be to get the three points on Thursday.
Captain Ahmed Mubarak 'Kanu' said that the team is looking to start its campaign on a positive note and promised to put up a good display. “We have had decent preparations and are looking forward to an exciting game tomorrow. We hope to start our campaign on a winning note,” said the experienced midfielder.


Indian players train in Guwahati on Wednesday ahead of Oman match


With Qatar in the group, a second-place finish behind the World Cup hosts could see Oman advance to the third qualifying round.

Oman had a warm-up camp in Germany and won narrowly against lowly Yemen last week as part of its build-up for the India match. Stimac has been working overtime to get India to adapt to his brand of football and will be hopeful it is on track after having experimented with the Indian squad in the Thailand King's Cup and Intercontinental Cup at home. The results may not have been pleasing for Stimac, a member of the Croatian team that reached the semifinals of the 1998 World Cup.


Erwin Koeman, Oman coach


Stimac acknowledged that Oman, along with Qatar, are the two favourites in the group. "Realistically, Qatar and Oman are the favourites in our group. We have never won an official (World Cup qualifying) match against either of them. So it's not going to be easy at all. In Guwahati, we are going to give everything on the pitch, aiming to win it," Stimac said at a pre-match media briefing on Wednesday.

Indian captain and star striker Sunil Chhetri said, “We are really optimistic  about our chances to win against Oman tomorrow. I believe we have the capability to progress to the next round. But at the same time we have to take one step at a time.”

India lost both its matches against Oman at the same stage during the qualification for the 2018 World Cup.
Oman holds a healthy head-to-head record against the hosts as it has won four, drawn two and lost one in the seven matches played so far since 1994.

In the other Group E game, Qatar will meet Afghanistan at the Jassim bin Hamad Stadium in Doha. Qatar's aim will be to get the first phase of defending the AFC Asian Cup title it won emphatically in February completed by next June - which it will if it tops group.

Top teams in action
Meanwhile, the Asian Qualifiers on Thursday will also see continent’s top sides aim to gain the early momentum. Kicking off the action in Group A is hosts Philippines when it faces-off against a determined Syria side in Bacolod City.  Another intriguing encounter awaits in Group B as Kuwait hosts Nepal side.

Group C also promises a thrilling opener between two West Asian rivals as Bahrain hosts Iraq. In Group D, Hector Cuper’s Uzbekistan travels to Palestine while Kyrgyz Republic faces a tricky trip to Central Zone rivals Tajikistan in what is expected to be an exciting Group F clash while Mongolia hosts Myanmar in Ulaanbaatar.

South-east Asian rivalry is the focus in Group G when Vietnam travels to Thailand and Indonesia takes on Malaysia. Group H will see North Korea meets Lebanon in Pyongyang as hosts Sri Lanka go up against Turkmenistan in Colombo.

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