A solitary goal from Muhsen Saleh Al Ghassani was enough for Oman to hand India their second defeat in the FIFA World Cup Asian Qualifiers on Tuesday at Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex.

After a disappointing 1-1 draw against Afghanistan, manager Igor Stimac made three changes in his team, with Nishu Kumar, Manvir Singh, and Farukh Chaudhary making their way into the starting XI. The outcome though was no different as India struggled to have an impact throughout.

The first blow came as early as the sixth minute, when defender Rahul Bheke brought Al Ghassani down on the ground in the penalty area and the referee didn’t think twice before awarding the home side a penalty.

With only goalkeeper, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu to beat, the Oman striker gave Bheke a huge sigh of relief by firing his shot above the bar. Al Ghassani eventually made up for the miss in the 33rd minute after a delicious cut through by Mohsin Al Khaldi was put into the net. Replays however suggested he was marginally offside.

India, on their part, played in bits and piece, with the best passage of play coming in between Udnata Singh, Brandon Fernandes and Nishu Kumar on the right flank. That clinical edge, however, made the difference as Oman’s defence went untroubled.

Stimac’s night went from bad to worse even before the half-hour mark as midfielder Pronay Halder was made to come off in place of Vinit Rai. Few minutes on, and defender Adil Khan suffered a similar fate after going down with a hamstring problem. The towering defender was called off in place of Anas Edathodika.

India failed to threaten their opponent even in the second half and although the last few minutes belonged to them; the wave of attack was perfectly dealt by the Omanis defence.

Midfield lacked structure

Stimac decided to go with an unusual 4-2-4 formation while in possession. The approach however not only left the defenders wanting for options, but the front four were made devoid of regular service as well. In turn, India were once again forced to play an eventual long-ball tactic.

Non-existent in support, the midfield lacked communication as well, as there were several misplaced passes in the area. A two-man midfield, meanwhile, left most of the field wide open and the defender were forced to have possession between them.

India are clearly missing someone who can not only rescue the team from tight situations, but can also lay down some serious threat when on the ball.

Rowllin Borges? Maybe.

Brandon Fernandes the lone wolf

Three assists in five qualifying games well and truly underlines what kind of impact the FC Goa midfielder has had under Stimac. In a rather underwhelming display in the centre of the park, Fernandes proved to be the lone wolf of the pack. While his set-piece deliveries were outstanding, his immaculate reading of tough situations kept India firmly in the game.

When not on the ball, India went down to a 4-5-1 formation, and Fernandes made some crucial interceptions during the tenure. He even laid down a pin-point delivery towards captain Sunil Chhetri, but the 35-year-old squandered the opportunity with a mistimed connection.

Attacking approach in vain

Despite having as many as four attacking options on the field, India failed to make any sort of impact. Chhetri, on his part, was indeed left isolated early on, but a change in position midway through the game didn’t help his cause either.

Neither one of Udanta Singh, Manvir Singh and Farukh Choudhary did enough to unsettle the opposition’s defence. Keeper Ali al Habsi, an FA Cup winner with Wigan Athletic, seemed like a mere spectator, as he hardly had to move a muscle throughout the game.

Having said that, India are virtually out of the competition The best they can finish is second if Oman lose all of their last three games, while the Blue Tigers claim victory in all of theirs.

Feature image courtesy: Twitter / @IndianFootball