3rd July, 2012
SULTAN QABOOS SPORTS COMPLEX, MUSCAT, 9:30 P.M. IST
As eleven young men from India troop down the Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex in Oman and lay their adrenalin filled legs on the turf, they would know that a nation that has never really been football crazy will be keeping a tab on the result. The performance of this team has received rave reviews in the cricket dominated Indian press and for once our footballers have grabbed the attention of national media. What the young turks will also know is that only a win coupled with an Iraqi victory over the United Arab Emirates will make them immortals. Whatever the result tomorrow, there is already a new wave of belief and expectation in Indian football thanks to Arthur Papas’ boys.
Team News And Tactical Brief
India (FIFA Rank 164)
What the India U-22 lads have done thus far is nothing short of extraordinary and a win against hosts Oman coupled with a loss for UAE against Iraq would mean the dawn of a new era in Indian football. But the task at hand is not easy.
Arthur Papas has few headaches to solve though the India U22 gaffer is unlikely to complain about them. Romeo Fernandes, after two sensational outings against Turkmenistan and UAE could well find himself starting on the bench after the return of the suspended Pranoy Halder. The decision whether Papas sticks to Romeo, who also won the first penalty against Turkmenistan, or returns to Halder will be taken only an hour or two before kick-off. The next big decision will be whether to field a half fit Jeje Lalpekhlua in this crunch or stick with the duo of Manandeep Singh and Alwyn George. In any case, Jeje will have a role to play during the course of the game.
India India India
The third puzzle will be the defensive quartet to keep the Omanese at bay. Papas has constantly changed his backline, be it due to suspensions or tactics. In the first game he started with Abhishek Das, Narayan Das, Souvik Ghosh and Deepak Devrani, while in the game against Iraq he replaced Abhishek Das with Prathamesh Maulingkar and Deepak Devrani with Ravindra Kumar. None of the same set of defenders has played two consecutive games together which means that India’s defenders are fresh. Narayan Das is suspended for this game and Prathamesh Maulingkar can make a come back after missing India-Turkmenistan encounter.
There will be a minor headache in India midfield which has been consistent and brilliant throughout the tournament. Tirthankar Sarkar is suspended and will most likely be replaced by Ganesh. Lalrindika Ralte will continue on the left assisted by Milan Singh and Pranoy Halder or Romeo Fernandes on the right. Papas also has the option of playing both Romeo and Halder tomorrow in the absence of Tirthankar.
India currently sit above Oman on a goal difference of +5 compared to the +1 of the Gulf country. Oman though have been no pushovers having held mighty Iraq to a 1-1 draw. Abdullah Salim and Mubarak Maqbili have been Oman’s top scorers with two goals each and the Indian defense would have to watch out for these two players.
Probable Starting XI (4-4-2): Gurpreet, Prathamesh, Narayan, Souvik, Deepak, Milan, Romeo, Ganesh, Lalrindika, George, Manandeep.
Oman (FIFA Rank 97)
Oman started disastrously losing to UAE in their first game but then have grown from strength to strength to beat Lebanon 3-2, routing Turkmenistan 3-1 and holding mighty Iraq to a 1-1 draw. The Phillipe Burle coached side has shown tremendous maturity since their opening game loss. Major credit should go to the French coach, a former assistant coach at FC Valenciennes, a Ligue 1 team in France, who has moulded them into a well oiled machine. Oman played an attacking 4-3-3 against Iraq and will play the same attacking line-up against India knowing that only a win will give them a chance of qualification.
They will miss Nadeem Al Maskhari in defense due to double booking. The four man defense is likely to comprise of captain Muheeb Issa, Ali Nahar, Ali Qurain and Mohammed Mukhaini. The midfield will have Sami Awain, Raed Saleh and Khaled Alawi while the three pronged attack will boast of the likes of Mubarak Maqbili, Basim Rajaibi and Hamood Al Sadi. Mubarak Maqbaili has been their highest scorer so far along with Abdullah Salim, scoring two goals each. Mazin Kasbi will guard the posts.
Probable Starting XI (4-3-3): Mazin Kasbi (GK), Muheeb Issa, Ali Nahar, Ali Qurain, Mohammed Mukhaini, Sami Awain, Raed Saleh, Khaled Alawi, Mubarak Maqbili, Basim Rajaibi, Hamood Al Sadi
Key Match Facts
India will qualify if they win and Iraq defeats UAE.
India will be knocked out if they draw or lose.
The Hard Tackle’s Players to Watch Out For:
The stocky, former Dempo Juniors player has been in top form for India in this tournament. He defended brilliantly against the tall Iraqis and also had a good outing against UAE. The Pailan Arrows player is blessed with a great height and physique that makes him one of the best young defenders in the team.
Though he was confined to the bench in the previous game, Salim has scored crucial goals for Oman against Lebanon and Turkmenistan. He is the joint highest scorer for Oman in this tournament.
India 1-1 Oman
India’s recent good form will see them give a good game to Oman but latter’s home advantage will be too much to surmout for Papas’ boys.