The Indian football team held higher-ranked Oman to a 1-1 draw on their return to action after a 492-day hiatus at Dubai’s Maktoum Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Stadium on Thursday.

Oman scored late in the first half through an own goal from Chinglensana Singh before Manvir Singh, with a superb assist from Bipin Singh, brought India back on level terms with a neatly taken goal ten minutes from the restart.

The Indian men’s team was playing their first international match after a prolonged Covid-19-enforced break. Coach Igor Stimac gave debuts to ten players on the night as the Blue Tigers produced a battling second-half display to earn a creditable result.

Stimac started with six debutants – Akash Mishra, Chinglensana, Ashutosh Mehta, Jeakson Singh, Suresh Singh and Bipin Singh – in the team and brought on four more – Apuia, Mohammad Yasir, Ishan Pandita, and Mashoor Shereef – during the course of the game for their first India appearance.

Oman started much brighter of the two sides and won most duels in the opening exchanges as India struggled to cope with the intensity of their opponents, giving away the ball too cheaply in dangerous areas of the pitch.

Oman almost scored after a clever piece of play inside the Indian box only for Al Ghafri to fire over from a tight angle in the 19th minute.

However, Branko Ivankovic’s men were presented with an even better chance seven minutes later when Rowllin Borges conceded a penalty with a sloppy tackle inside the box. But Al-Muqbali saw his attempt from six yards saved after he hit a tame shot straight at Amrinder Singh who started in goal ahead of Gurpreet Singh Sandhu.

But India, who continued to be sloppy on the ball, were punished two minutes from half time as Al Aghbari got the ball on the left wing and sent a low cross towards face of the goal. Amrinder could not collect the ball cleanly and his error meant the ball hit Chinglensana Singh and went past the goal line.

Oman were full value for their lead at the break as Igor Stimac had work to do. He responded by making two changes, both in central midfield. Apuia replaced Borges while Raynier came on for Jeakson Singh.

The changes took some time to have an impact but slowly as the half wore on, the new pairing improved the Indian side’s ball retention in the middle of the park.

Their efforts were boosted by an Indian equaliser pretty much against the run of play. In the 55th minute, Ashutosh Mehta found Bipin Singh in the half-space on the edge of the penalty area. The Mumbai City FC winger, who had scored the goal that clinched the ISL title for his side, delivered a pinpoint cross for Manvir Singh to head home brilliantly from close range.

On the first occasion that Indian forwards found space in the Oman final third, they produced a moment of quality that we have rarely seen from the team in the last few matches.

Amrinder Singh too recovered from his error and produced fine saves in the 63rd and 65th minutes.

India competed much better after their equaliser and even though Oman piled on the pressure at the end, the Blue Tigers had enough to stave off the threat and record a good result against an opponent ranked 23 places above them in the Fifa rankings.

India will now face UAE in another friendly game in Dubai on Monday. The friendiles are a part of preparations for the joint-qualifying round matches of the 2022 World Cup and 2023 Asian Cup to be played in June.