Guwahati, Sep 5 (IANS) Captian Sunil Chhetri's first half strike went in vain as India went down fighting 1-2 to Oman in their World Cup qualifying opener here on Thursday.
Chhetri scored in the 24th minute as India led Oman at halftime.
But in the last ten minutes, the home team's dream of registering their first win over their higher-ranked rival went up in smoke as Al-Mandhar (82nd, 90th) netted a timely brace.
India could have been 2-0 up inside the first 25 minutes had Udanta Singh's effort not found the woodwork in the 4th minute.
The Blue Tigers had their first real chance around the quarter-hour mark, when Anirudh Thapa intercepted a ball in the middle of the park and played it to Chhetri, who put Udanta through. The winger jinked past an Oman defender and rattled the cross-bar.
Soon after, Kuruniyan Ashique was played into the box as he took the ball away from the rushing keeper Faiyz Al Rusheidi. However, the 22-year-old was in too tight an angle to score.
The early pressure by the Blue Tigers soon paid the dividends, as Ashique was brought down on the left flank by Abdulaziz Al Gheilani, who went into the books for the mistimed tackle.
It was a combination of Brandon Fernandes and Chhetri from the resulting free-kick, as they worked-out a set-piece straight from the training ground.
Fernandes drilled it in hard and low for Chhetri, who lost his marker and planted the sweetest of left-footers into the bottom corner, sending the partisan crowd of 22,798 at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium here into ecstasy.
With a couple of minutes left for the half-time whistle, Oman captain Ahmed Al Mahaijri had the golden opportunity to put the away side level. A cross played from the right flank found Mahaijri on the other end of it, as he went in with a powerful header. However, India custodian Gurpreet Singh Sandhu put in a strong hand to parry it away from point-blank range and Mahaijri failed to hit the target from the rebound.
Igor Stimac's boys applied a much more cautious approach after the change of ends, and the equaliser nearly came from the most unlikeliest of sources - a miscued clearance by Thapa. However, Sandhu was on hand again, to tip it over the bar. The 27-year-old custodian bailed India out again a few minutes later, when he calmly collected a precise free-header by Abdulaziz Al Maqbali.
On the hour-mark, Stimac decided to add some pace to the wings, as he brought on Lallianzuala Chhangte in place of Fernandes. While Oman attempted to get the equaliser, Chhetri tried to use Chhangte's pace as he played the youngster through on the counter. However, he scuffed his eventual shot.
Oman left it late, but they came back in the last 10 minutes, when Al-Mandhar Al Alawi scored two to win it for Oman. For their first goal, Al-Mandhar was played into the India box via a lofted through ball, as the attacker dinked it over Gurpreet to equalise.
The 24-year-old struck the winner on last minute of regulation time, as he cut in from the left and rifled his shot into the back of the net.
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