Indian football team suffered a heartbreaking 1-2 loss at the hands of Oman in the first game of the 2022 World Cup qualifiers at Guwahati on Thursday as they let a one-goal lead slip in the final ten minutes of the game.

Leading through a Sunil Chhetri goal in the 24th minute, India staved off second-half Omani pressure until substitute Rabia Alawi Al Mandhar produced two fine goals to give Oman the victory.

India dominated the first half with more shots at opposition goal and also enjoyed possession.

Ashique Kuruniyan, who returned to the team after missing the Kings Cup and Intercontinental Cup due to injury, created problems for the Oman defence with his pace and trickery in the left channel.

Following one such run down the left flank in the 24th minute, he was fouled by Abdulaziz Al Ghailani and India got a free kick on the left edge of the box.

Brandon Fernandes took the set-piece, sent a grounder in the middle of the box and Chhetri fooled his marker to drill in a left-footer into the Oman net, much to the celebration of a vociferous crowd.

Before that, India were denied lead in the 15th minute when Udanta Singh’s shot off a Chhetri pass beat the Omani goalkeeper but it struck the crossbar, to the dismay of the home side. Udanta was also denied a goal in a similar fashion against the UAE in the Asian Cup earlier in the year.

There were periods of incessant Indian attack in the first half and central defender Sandesh Jhingan sent the ball over the bar in a free header off a corner taken by Anirudh Thapa in the 20th minute.

Oman pressed hard in the closing stages of the first half and goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu made a great save in the 43rd minute, blocking an Ahmed Kano header in a one-to-one situation to keep India’s lead intact.

Oman stepped up the intensity in the second half as India lost its shape in a bid to have more numbers in their own half. Gurpreet was called in once again as he palmed away an effort destined for the goal that had come off teammate Anirudh Thapa.

India’s attacking threat vaned in the second half and their press went missing which eventually led to the goal. Oman picked up the ball deep in their half and sent a long ball to Al-Mandhar who sneaked in behind the Indian defence to sent a lob over a helpless Gurpreet.

Rahul Bheke made a later attempt to track his runner but only ended up playing him onside.

A few minutes later, Bheke was too easily rolled over by Al-Mandhar while trying to close down the winger high up the pitch. With the Indian right-back out of the game, Al-Mandhar ran at the exposed Indian rearguard and sent a curler past Gurpreet to hand Oman the lead.

A deflated India showed little signs of a comeback as Oman walked away with all three points. India now travel to Qatar on Tuesday in the second game of the World Cup qualifiers.

(With PTI inputs)