Tuesday, January 18
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Man on a mission

16 Sep 2020 By ASHOK PUROHIT

Oman football team’s head coach Branko Ivankovic has called for a national camp in November as he prepares the team for the rescheduled 2022 FIFA World Cup and 2023 Asian Cup qualifiers next year 


Oman’s head coach Branko Ivankovic seems to be a man on a mission. Having been an assistant coach of the Croatian team that finished third in the 1998 France World Cup and then steering Iran to the 2006 World Cup in Germany, the 66 year old veteran is now hoping to lead Oman to the World Cup.

Leading the Red Warriors to their maiden World Cup is a task full of challenges and this is why the Croatian has set short-term achievable goals in pursuit of the bigger target

Speaking at a press conference at the Oman Football Association (OFA) headquarters on Wednesday to announce the national team’s plans and training programmes to prepare for the joint qualification rounds of the 2022 FIFA World Cup and 2023 Asian Cup, Ivankovic said: “The first target is to qualify for the next round of the Asian World Cup qualifiers and Asian Cup. With the qualifiers now moved to next year, we have time to prepare.

“I was planning to call a camp for the national team this week but with the suspended 

2019-2020 domestic league rounds starting in October and His Majesty’s Cup in November, it is in the best interest of the players and the clubs to postpone the camp to November.”

The coach, who took over Oman team in January, is yet to lead his players in any match so far. 

He confirmed that the national team will have a camp in Dubai, UAE, in November during the ten-day FIFA break. 

“We have got a friendly against Kuwait finalised and most likely will also play against Jordan during the camp. It will give me a good opportunity to look at the players and their potential.

“The new 2020-2021 domestic season is expected to begin in December and the national team players will be then busy with their respective clubs till March when we propose to have a lengthy camp and also play a couple of friendly games. We are in talks with India and other countries for friendlies in March.”

About the suspension of games during the past several months due to the coronavirus, Ivankovic said: “Oman players haven’t had any games in the last five months or any [squad] training sessions, which is a problem for us. Personally, I’m not happy about the lack of competitions and friendly games, but the good thing is that we’ll have an opportunity in November to get the players together and see how they perform after several months with no games. 

“The next official match for Oman will be March 2021, but we must prepare well before then, and the players must compete in the local league in order to regain their form after that prolonged hiatus.”

Ivankovic, who recently returned to Oman from his native country, said that he is aware of the high stakes in the Group E match against Asian champions and leaders Qatar.

Oman is currently trailing Qatar by a point in the group after five rounds with 12 points. Besides the two, the other teams in the group are Afghanistan, India and Bangladesh.

Oman is scheduled to host Qatar next year about which Ivankovic said ‘there will be a lot of pressure’ while playing against the  heavyweights. “I am ready to handle the pressure and I promise, we will give our best against them.”

On the decision by the Supreme Committee’s in charge of COVID-19 of having the domestic league and matches without fans, the coach said that ‘it is the best option given the current circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic’.

He said, “The pandemic has affected the football globally and with the support of the Oman Football Association (OFA) we are keen to help the clubs. This is the reason the national camp has been postponed. 

“The decision to play the remaining rounds of the league is the right way forward. 

“The players are rusty and it would take nearly three-four months for them to get back to the pre-COVID-19 shape. We are hoping to have a longer preparation during March.”

New challenge

Ivankovic said that he is looking to build a team for the future.

“The doors of the national team are always open for talented players and we are looking out for young players. We plan to build the team not for 

tomorrow or the day after, but for the future. There are a few ageing players in the national team and they will have to give way in the next couple of years,” he said.

Ivankovic, who has coached several clubs in Iran, China and Saudi Arabia, is already an established name in Asian football.

Earlier in an interview with fifa.com on Tuesday, Ivankovic said that taking over as Oman coach was a new challenge and his goal is to achieve things with the sultanate and develop the game, which is lacking professionalism in the Middle East in general. 

He said, “Players need more experiences and need to work harder. It’s an enormous challenge for me.”


Club or national team

On the difference of coaching a national team and a club, he said: “Personally, I follow two distinct approaches depending on whether I’m working with a club or a national team. 

“There’s a big difference between the two jobs. With a club, you get to work with players on a daily basis, but with national teams, you only see them in training camps. 

“After I’d coached a number of clubs early on in my career, I had a great experience with the Croatian national team, which competed at the 1996 Euro and the 1998 World Cup. After that, I took over Iran, where I spent four years.”

He told fifa.com: “With clubs, you get enough time to select the players and work with them on a daily basis. You get to know a lot about the club, discover young players, and have the pressure of a game every three days or so. 

“This is very good for me because I personally love to work every day. This continuity helps you achieve something with the club where you see the players once or twice a day, which in turn helps you learn a lot about them and how they develop.

“On the other hand, you don’t get to spend enough time with a national team. 

Players sometimes arrive at the training camp a few days before official games. It gets very difficult when you play the qualifiers during international breaks. 

“With major tournaments, you have more time but you have to select the best players and make quick decisions. Moreover, there are players who don’t get enough playing time with their clubs or are not performing well, which you have to bear in mind all the time. 

“The most important thing for a coach, whether with a club or national team, is to provide a good atmosphere and create harmony between the players.”

At the press conference on Wednesday, Ivankovic was accompanied by Said Othman al Balushi, general secretary and chief executive of the OFA and Maqbool al Balushi, manager of the national team.


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