In September, India faced Oman in their first FIFA World Cup 2022 Qualifying match at Guwahati’s Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium. Till the 81st minute, the 15,000-strong Indian crowd kept cheering for the home team with Sunil Chhetri’s goal in the 24th minute keeping them in front. But in the next ten minutes, the crowd fell silent. Oman’s center-forward Al Mandhar Al Alawi scored two goals within eight minutes to pull off a stunning comeback for the visiting team.
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As India travel to Oman for the reverse fixture after drawing their previous two encounters against Bangladesh and Afghanistan, defender Rahul Bheke speaks to Hindustan Times in a telephone interview on the defensive concerns that the team will be facing at Al-Seeb Stadium on Tuesday. Here are the excerpts:
What went wrong in the previous match against Oman?
We started really well. The first half was really good for us. Everyone gave their best shot. We all were tired going into the second half. The conditions of the ground and the weather conditions took a toll. When we look back at the videos, the players look tired and that’s what cost us. Because of this we conceded two goals in the final ten minutes.
There is a rising concern that India often concede late goals. Your thoughts?
Everyone in our team knows that we are conceding these late goals. We have to make sure that we do not do so in the future games. Players have discussed this among themselves. We know that these qualifiers are extremely important. We cannot afford to make these mistakes. We did the same against Oman in the previous game which was very disappointing.
How would Sandesh Jhingan’s absence affect team?
Everyone knows how important Sandesh Jhingan is to India’s defence. We will really miss him in the match. He is really strong as center-back. What he can do in the defence, what he wants to do for the country, we will try to emulate the same and win the match.
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It was Al Mandhar who scored two goals and took the match away from India the last time around. Will defence be keeping an extra eye out for him?
Not only al Mandhar, there are several players in Oman’s attack who can be a threat. We will be keeping an eye out on everyone. Our efforts will be directed to get a clean sheet in the match.
How will this encounter be different from the previous one, considering Oman will be playing at home now?
It will be different because Oman will have their fan support this time around. They have been playing in this stadium for a number of years so they will be more confident. Since we are playing an away game, we need to be mentally and tactically strong. We cannot leave our defence open and move forward. We have to wait for our chances and play on the counter-attacks. We have to move on our right, so that we can use the space for our counters. We have to be mentally strong so that we can stretch the game to the last minute.