Football - Manjit
India's Manjit Singh (right) celebrates with a teammate after scoring their equaliser during their friendly in Dubai. Image Credit: Twitter

India, playing without their talismanic skipper Sunil Chhetri, marked their return to international football after 492 days with a 1-1 draw against Oman at the Maktoum Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Stadium in Dubai on Thursday. Chhetri, who had been playing for Bengaluru FC in Indian Super League (ISL) till recently, is now recovering from a bout of COVID-19.

Igor Stimac’s men started with six debutants and kept the opposition at bay in the opening half-hour, where goalkeeper Amrinder Singh even saved a penalty. But towards the end of the first half, Zahir Al Aghbri opened the scoring for Oman.

After the break, India started off on the frontfoot and equalised near the hour mark through a Manvir Singh header off a Bipin Singh cross.

Stimac told after the match: "One good thing was the result in the end. The whole team reacted really well in the second half. They did their best and tried everything. We had some good transitions, which is something I was looking for. In the end, I have to say I am happy because we had 10 debutants today – some with many minutes on the pitch and some with only few. But, they all did their part in getting our first point from Oman in three games."

Debut appearances

As many as 10 players got their senior India caps on the day – Akash Mishra, Ashutosh Mehta, Chinglensana Singh, Suresh Singh Wangjam, Bipin Singh and Jeakson Singh all started the game while Lalengmawia Ralte, Yasir Mohammad, Ishan Pandita and Mashoor Shareef came on as substitutes.

Stimac shared his half-time team talk and stressed on the importance of playing as a unit.

"At half time, I repeated myself and told the team that we didn't put pressure on the Oman player with the ball in our half and we stayed too far from their players when they were building up. Oman were growing in confidence and we were getting lower. I asked the players go out and express themselves but do it as a unit. In the first half, we had individual intent and attacks from Manvir, Ashique etc. We wanted to enter transitions as a compact group, which we did in the second half to a degree," former Croatian international said.

India will play their second friendly against the UAE at the Al Wasl Stadium on March 29, the match scheduled to start at 8.15 pm. They have been scheduled as preparation for the Fifa World Cup qualifiers starting from June.