India will begin their 2022 FIFA World Cup qualification process by hosting Oman at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in Guwahati on Thursday.
New coach Igor Stimac has presided over the team for four games since taking over. Though the Blue Tigers have won only one of those matches, there has been a clear change in playing style and approach as he has focused on youth keeping possession and pressing.
If the Indians are to harbour any hopes of qualifying for the World Cup, however unrealistic, they need to get a good result against Oman and focus on finishing second in group E, behind 2022 World Cup hosts Qatar.
Here are three things to look forward to as India face Oman in Guwahati:
3. Loss of Amarjit a Big Blow
Amarjit Singh impressed in the Intercontinental Cup in Ahmedabad in his role as a midfield disruptor. He broke down play, was quick to release the strikers for counter-attacks and was not afraid to put his foot in and concede the odd foul to help his team.
His absence due to a fractured hand is a big blow for Igor Stimac as he is yet to settle on a centre-back to partner Sandesh Jhingan, with Adil Khan, Anas Edathodika and Narender Gahlot all having played there. Amarjit's presence would have been important to keeping the opponents' attacks at bay.
Gurpreet Singh Sandhu has been an ever present in the Indian goal and will need adequate protection if the Blue Tigers are to salvage anything from this game.
2. Recent Record and Personnel Favour Oman
Oman have generally been one of the more consistent and stronger teams in Asia, which can be seen by their consistency in qualifying for the Asian Cup.
The last couple of encounters between India and the West Asian side were during the World Cup qualifiers for 2018, with Oman emerging triumphant on both occasions, 2-1 and 3-0.
Coached by Erwin Koeman, the younger brother of Netherlands' coach Ronald Koeman, the Reds have a dangerous team, with Ahmed Kano the danger man. The attacking midfielder would be looking to put striker Abdulaziz Al Muqbali through on goal, with youngster Arshad Al Alawi another player to watch out for.
Oman have also been playing practice matches in the last month, touring Germany to play club sides, while also defeating Yemen 1-0 in a friendly last week. India, on the other hand, have not been in action since the Intercontinental Cup as the season has not yet started.
1. Thapa and Sahal Key for India Going Forward
It goes without saying that India will depend on captain Sunil Chhetri for goals in the World Cup qualifiers. However, with Stimac playing him as a striker, he will rely on the support of the attacking midfielders to give him the ball in dangerous areas.
Sahal Abdul Samad and Anirudh Thapa have both impressed as players who can pass the ball well and possess flair to be effective in attack, and the two of them will need to be at their best if the home side have to get a positive result.
Their ability to run with the ball, pick out a good pass and turn up in goalscoring positions will be paramount to India's attempts to hit Oman on the counter.
3 things to look forward to as India host Oman in their opening 2022 World Cup qualifier