A higher-ranked Oman, coached by the experienced Paul Le Guen, will start as the clear favourite when it takes on India in their opening Group D qualifier for the 2018 World Cup at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru, India on Thursday. The match kicks off at 5.30pm, Oman time.

Oman recently dropped out of 100 in the latest FIFA rankings, settling at 101, while India sits at No 141.

India hopes to capitalise on the home advantage against the Red Warriors. But dominating a much higher-ranked rival won’t be an easy task as India has only won once in their four past meetings. Oman has won two and one game was drawn.

The last time the two teams clashed was in Muscat in February 2012, when Oman won the friendly 5-1, a victory it would be keen to repeat while India would be drawing some confidence from its 2-0 and 0-0 results against Nepal in the first round of qualifying.

Oman, meanwhile, was held to a 0-0 draw in a friendly at Bahrain on May 31 in the former’s last international engagement after losing to Syria 1-2 in another warm-up friendly.

Oman and India are in a group that has fancied Iran, ranked 41, Turkmenistan (173) and Guam (174).

Despite the big win in the previous meeting, Le Guen is not keen to take India lightly. “I will not take India lightly, but I believe we will progress from this group without much hiccups. My aim is to target the top two places in Group D.”

For the Indians, the pressure to perform well will be huge after it was widely reported that the Arnab Mondal-led side went through arduous military-styled training at an Indian Army base in Bengaluru recently to brace up for the challenging Oman game.

India coach Stephen Constantine, who returned to the job for a second spell in January after a ten-year gap, said, “In contests like World Cup qualifiers, ideally we would like to win home games. But anyway, beating teams like Iran, Turkmenistan and the others is always difficult, whether at home or away.”

The Englishman also pointed out that he has had very little time to prepare the side, which he took charge of only a few weeks back. Speaking about Oman’s credentials, the India coach said, “Oman has been a very good side for a very long time. You don’t go to Asian finals if you are not a good side. Our boys will be under pressure playing against Oman. They have to deal with that pressure.

“We have new players in the side and it takes time to make them understand what we need. But there is no point in crying about it. We want to do as well as we can in the short span of time that we have.”

Oman coach eyes ‘positive start’

Oman coach Paul Le Guen hopes his Red Warriors will get off to a ‘positive start’ in their 2018 World Cup qualifiers with a win against India on Thursday.

“We know how important this game is,” the Frenchman said on Wednesday. “We are in a tough group and this game against India is important. This Indian team is improving, but it is our job to get better and get three points.”

“We are a young team and our problem is that we lack experience. The Indian team is young, too, but then so are we. My expectation is to be at our best. We were close to World Cup qualification last time and hopefully, this time we can do better,” said Le Guen.

“The new generation in Oman has the ambition to improve and the domestic league in Oman has to develop. We have to be ambitious,” he said.

Le Guen said that it is vital for any team to play against higher-ranked nations in order to take stock of its own standing and gain experience.

“Playing friendlies against big teams is advantageous. We played against Algeria, it is a top team. Such games help us to adapt to these big teams,” he said.

Oman missed out on qualification for last year’s World Cup in Brazil after trailing Jordan by a point in the fourth round, which saw it finish fourth in its group.