India’s over-reliance on forward Sunil Chhetri and the team’s inexperience cost them their Asian qualifying tie for the 2022 World Cup against Oman, coach Igor Stimac rued after the 2-1 loss on Thursday.
Udanta Singh hit the crossbar and Sandesh Jhingan’s header missed the mark before the talismanic Chhetri’s 24th-minute strike put the hosts ahead in the group E match in the east Indian city of Guwahati.
India dominated the first half but looked jaded in the second though they held on to their slender lead until the 82nd minute.
Rabia Alawi Al Mandhar then conjured up a brace to give Oman the three points and a dejected Stimac felt they could have killed off the contest in the first half itself.
“We’re very sad. We deserved more from this game,” the Croat, who was appointed India coach in May, said after the match.
“We could’ve punished the Omani team heavily in the first half, we could have killed the game before the break, but we were not lucky there.
“You see all of our goals come from Sunil but he cannot score every time …”
India is currently ranked 103 in the world by FIFA and the cricket-mad country of 1.3 billion are yet to qualify for the World Cup finals.
Stimac said he was proud of the team’s display except in the last 20 minutes when they surrendered the lead.
“Our only mistake was running with the through ball too quick and losing the ball,” said the 51-year-old, who was part of the Croatia team who finished third at the 1998 World Cup in France.
“When you are leading, you need to keep passing the ball, keeping the ball and making the opponent run and chase and not losing the ball after three seconds. That was the difference.
“It’s about experience. My players were fit, in fact fitter than Oman, but they were more experienced.”
India face a tougher task in their next match when they take on Asian Cup champions Qatar on Tuesday but Stimac said his team were neither intimidated not down on motivation for the match in Doha.
“It’s not going to be easy, we know that. Qatar is different, the strongest team here but that’s a good game in front of us.
“Obviously we need to change four-five players for that game. No reason to have a fear going there. We will try to play good football and try to score goals.”
Stimac said despite the defeat by Oman, he saw bright future for his side which would only get better with experience.
“It’s a new Indian team, absolutely different from before … we have many more options now. It’s not just 13-14 payers anymore, this is very good.
“The time will come when we are not going to lose game like this. We’re going to kill those games in the first half. For that we need to work very hard.”