Unlike the previous fixture, however, the match on Thursday does not come with the baggage of expectation or pressure. In fact, coach Igor Stimac made it clear in the pre-match press conference that he doesn’t care as much about the results in these two matches as he does about the experience that the slew of young players in the Indian team will gain from facing higher-ranked opposition in foreign conditions.
The UAE and Oman are placed 74th and 81st, respectively, on the FIFA rankings while India are 104th.
As many as 10 players in the 27-man squad, which has an average age of 24, are yet to make their international debut. All of them have been selected on the basis of their performances in this season’s Indian Super League (ISL).
India had lost both the matches they played against Oman in the qualifiers, with their first defeat being a particularly painful experience. The Blue Tigers were leading 1-0 for much of the match and even dominated the first half to a large extent. But two late goals from Oman helped them win the match 2-1.
“That first match (against Oman) was crucial, that match was going to determine whether we are going to fight for first two positions in group (and qualify for next round),” Stimac said at a virtual press conference on Wednesday.
“As it happened, with bad luck or inexperience (of players) in such important games, we fell down and that was something I always cry about. I felt sorry, not for myself because I have faced similar situations during my career, but for the players,” he further said.
Sunil Chhetri, who tested positive for Covid-19 a few days before the team left for Dubai, won’t be playing in the two friendlies which means that the likes of Manvir Singh or even Ishan Pandita could get some minutes under their legs in the two games.
Among the players who could make their international debut are FC Goa’s Pandita, Hyderabad FC’s breakout star Liston Colaco and Bipin Singh, who scored the winning goal for Mumbai City in the ISL final.