India can surprise Oman: Sahal Abdul Samad

Sajith B Warrier

Bengaluru, September 19: Indian midfielder Sahal Abdul Samad feels the Blue Tigers can conquer Oman in their own den when the two sides meet in the FIFA World Cup Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Zone qualifiers on November 19.

Though India lost 1-2 to Oman at home (in Guwahati), despite leading till the 81st minute, they impressed against AFC Asian Cup 2019 champions Qatar holding the mighty Al Annabi to a goalless draw in a crucial away tie.

The 22-year-old believes the draw against 2022 FIFA World Cup hosts Qatar has given the Indian football team the much needed confidence as they take on Oman in the Group which also features Afghanistan and Bangladesh.

"After earning this crucial point, we've to make sure of winning the next two games (against Bangladesh and Afghanistan). Then only we'll get the fighting spirit to work further and proceed. Now, we know what we are capable of and how much we can improve. Personally, I think we can surprise them (Oman)," Sahal told PTI news agency.

The eight group winners and four best runners-up will advance to the the final round of qualifying for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 as well as AFC Asian Cup 2023 to be held in China.

However, should Qatar - who have qualified for the 2022 FIFA World Cup as hosts - win their group, the seven other group winners and five best second-placed sides will advance to the final round of qualifying for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

Familiarity with Gulf

Having lived a majority of his life in the UAE's Al Ain, Sahal knows the Gulf region well and so does its football culture. Compared to Qatar, Oman may be a different team, but Sahal feels the stalemate against Asian champions has done wonders when it comes to the confidence of the team.

"It was a historical moment. I can proudly say that it was one of the best matches of my career. This achievement has brought in much-needed confidence to the entire team," he said.

Stimac's faith

Sahal is one of the youngsters blooded into the national team by new head coach Igor Stimac. He showed his talent while playing for Indian Super League ISL) club Kerala Blasters where he has been for last two years.

Naturally, he is loving Stimac's possession-based football, building from the back with neat passes and smooth transition to attacking.

Brand of play

"In modern football, it's all about keeping the ball and making the opponent run and get them tired. I, personally, and the whole team is liking the brand of football which we are playing," said the current emerging player of the year for both the AIFF and the ISL.

Not surprisingly, the youngster wants to mould himself like Argentinian maestro, Lionel Messi.

Qatar plan

Asked about Stimac's game plan against Qatar, he said, "The coach has taught us to be realistic and know the opponents minutely. He wanted us to focus on our defensive structure without forgetting to attack."

With India set to play Oman away in November and Qatar at home in March, they can certainly expect more from Sahal.

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