Verbeek wary of high-altitude challenge

Pim Verbeek

Having already booked its berth in the 2019 Asian Cup last month, Oman's football coach Pim Verbeek is a relieved man after accomplishing his “first goal” of his tenure as the boss of Red Warriors.

With two matches remaining to decide the group topper, Verbeek is now preparing his boys for the forthcoming challenge – an away game in Thimphu, Bhutan on November 14.

Last month, Oman joined table-topper Palestine as the two teams to march from Group D into the Asian Cup 2019 UAE with a comfortable 3-1 win against the hosts Maldives in Male.

In an exclusive interview with Muscat Daily on Monday, the experienced Dutchman said, “I am happy to have achieved our primary goal to qualify for the Asian Cup. We were the favourite and were expected to advance but still we had to achieve it. So, I am happy for the boys and the people of Oman that we have confirmed our spot in the UAE Asian Cup.

Oman will be making its fourth Asian Cup appearance in 2019, having also qualified for the 2015 Asian Cup in Australia.

Verbeek said he would like his team to continue with the winning rhythm when it travels next week to Bhutan for its penultimate Asian Cup qualifying game that will also bring curtains to the competitive schedule of the national team for 2017.

With the Gulf Cup in Doha, Qatar, unlikely to be held in December, given the recent spike in tensions between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain, the showpiece football event of the region may be put on hold for some time.

“Playing in Bhutan is a tricky affair as the stadium in Thimphu is an high-altitude venue.

“It is always a challenge for teams to compete against the home teams at such high-altitude venues. Palestine had won 10-0 at home against Bhutan last month but when it had travelled to play in Thimphu in September, it could win only by a 2-0 margin. Definitely, high-altitude will play a crucial role in our players’ performances there,” said Verbeek.

Bhutan's amateurs will hope the dizzying altitude of its country will give the hosts an edge against Oman after it had suffered a 14-0 drubbing at its hands in Muscat in March.

The match against Oman will be held at the Changlimithang Stadium in the capital Thimphu, which sits at almost 8,000 feet (2,600m) in the remote, mountainous Himalayan kingdom.

“When one has to play at such altitudes, either the team has to go couple of weeks early to acclimatise or go late for the match. We did not have the chance to go early due to the ongoing domestic season. We will be reaching on November 12 and have couple of training sessions before the match.

“It will be a challenge but we know we are a better team and we would like to win the match. Of course, a big-margin result is not in out minds as we know that the physical stamina of players will be put to litmus test in Bhutan,” said Verbeek.

Bhutan, which is ranked 190th in the latest FIFA ranking, is a Buddhist country of just 750,000, and is better known for its Gross National Happiness Index and archery.

Oman, meanwhile, is now ranked 110th in the world, and coach Verbeek said that except for few niggles to couple of players, the team is ready for Bhutan trip. The Red Warriors climbed ten places from its

August ranking and has achieved its year's best rank in October with 110.

“I have not picked any Olympic team player for Bhutan and the core of the team that played against Maldives last month will be retained. Having qualified for the Asian Cup, the team is certainly devoid of any pressure and it would be nice to end the year with a victory,” said the 61 year old Dutchman, who would be completing his  first year of reign in December.

The national team began its camp at the Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex on Saturday and will continue to train till November 11 before flying to New Delhi en route to Bhutan. Ali al Habsi will lead the team in Thimphu and has arrived for the Muscat camp from Saudi Arabia.

Oman is currently second in the group with nine points, three behind leader Palestine, which hosts Maldives on November 14. Oman hosts Palestine in the concluding group match in Muscat on March 27, a match that will decide the group topper.

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