The India Under-23 football team defeated Oman 2-1 in their opening fixture of the AFC U-23 Asian Cup 2022 Qualifiers at the Fujairah Stadium in Dubai, UAE, with Rahim Ali (6th minute) converting a penalty, before Vikram Partap Singh (37th minute) doubling the lead to earn a crucial victory.
Waleed Salim scored a consolation goal in added time for the Oman on Sunday night but the three points came into India's kitty.
Igor Stimac, after the recent success in the SAFF Championship in Maldives where the senior team defeated Nepal for the title, got into the act quickly in pursuit of qualification to the AFC U-23 Asian Cup Uzbekistan 2022 for the first time ever since the inception of the tournament in 2013.
He started with the experienced Dheeraj Singh under the bar and two full-backs in Asish Rai and Akash Mishra. Deepak Tangri and Narender Gahlot manned the defence, while India's U-17 FIFA World Cupper duo of Jeakson Singh and skipper Suresh Wangjam captain took care of the midfield, while Rahul KP and Vikram Partap Singh were deployed at the flanks. Rahim Ali and Aniket Jadhav were at the attacking third.
Before the opponents could settle down, India started attacking from the flanks and in the fifth minute, Vikram earned a penalty that Rahim Ali converted. Omani goalkeeper Ibrahim Yousuf had guessed the right way, but Rahim's spot-kick was placed perfectly, as the ball went past the upright and into the side netting.
Six minutes later, Akash floated in a superb cross from the left but the goalkeeper leapt above Aniket to grab it. Vikram and Rahul kept the Omani midfield on its toes, something that helped them slam the second goal in the 37th minute.
Akash split the midfield and passed it onto an onrushing Rahim Ali, who rounded off his marker and pushed the ball onto an unmarked Vikram towards his right. The youngster made no mistake to slot it home past an onrushing keeper. That goal gave India the upper hand before half time.
On resumption, India could have made it three through Aniket Jadhav, but he was ruled offside.
Stimac made a few changes towards the end and the boys responded well to hold their fortress against Oman. Bryce Miranda, who was thrown into the fray in the 71st minutes, almost scored his first goal in the 80th. Having played a brilliant one-two with Rahim Ali, he slipped into the Oman penalty box from the left corner but eventually miscued his effort.
In the final minute of the regulation time, Omani substitute Waleed Salim tucked in a cross from Abdullah Mohammed Al Balushi to halve the gap, but the Indian defenders clung on to their lead towards the final whistle to leave the pitch with all three points.
India have joined the Kyrgyz Republic at the top of Group E with equal points and an identical goal difference. Indian will face hosts UAE at the same venue on Wednesday (October 27).