Thursday, September 23
10:47 PM

‘Most important match’

6 Sep 2021 By ASHOK PUROHIT

Hosts meet Saudi Arabia in Asian Qualifiers – Road to Qatar Group B game on Tuesday

Bobby Darin’s Come September theme could well be the song that Oman football fans would wish to croon or dance to these days.

And why not! Oman welcomed the month with a sensational upset 1-0 win over Asia No 1 and heavyweights Japan in Osaka, Japan, last week.

They are now all set to take on another powerhouse, Saudi Arabia in their second game of the AFC Asian Qualifiers – Road to Qatar Group B match at the Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex on Tuesday. The match kicks off at 8pm.

It has been a celebratory start to the month for Oman football after they got off to a dream start to their campaign in the third round of the Asian qualifying for the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar.

Not many gave Oman a chance to pick three points against Japan and having achieved those, Oman’s astute manager Branko Ivankovic of Croatia is planning yet another ‘coup’ of sorts at home. Oman is facing ‘the most important match’ on Tuesday, the 67-year-old manager said on the eve of the clash against Saudi Arabia.

“Saudi Arabia are an excellent team and have a good balance. They are a dangerous team with lot of experience of playing in the World Cups,” said Oman coach on Monday at the pre-match press conference in Muscat.

“We will do our best against them. For me, the match tomorrow against Saudi Arabia is the most important one in our campaign. A win on Tuesday will open up lot of chances for us to make our maiden qualification to the World Cup finals in Qatar.

“We have a dream. As a coach, I know that it is a tough challenge but I want my players to believe that we need to dream to achieve our goals. It is still a long journey [Oman need to play ten games in the third round] to make it to the Qatar World Cup.”

The top-two teams from each group in this stage get a direct berth to the 2022 FIFA World Cup while there is a chance for the third-placed team in each group to also seek a spot through a playoff process, first between the two third-placed Asian teams and then against a South American team.

The Red Warriors who dashed straight from Osaka to Muscat by a special Oman Air flight, courtesy the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Youth, on Friday after winning against Japan a day before, have been training hard since then under the watchful eyes of Ivankovic.

The players got a boost when H H Sayyid Theyazin bin Haitham al Said, the Minister of Culture, Sports and Youth, met them at the J W Marriott Muscat on Monday and wished them good luck.

The visit of H H Sayyid Theyazin and the pep talk by the Oman Football Association (OFA) chairman Sheikh Salim al Wahaibi, who was recently re-elected as the OFA boss for another term, will go a long way to boost the morale of the Red Warriors, who are also delighted to have their fans back in the stadium to cheer them.

“We are excited to have our loyal fans come to the stadium tomorrow (Tuesday) to cheer us. We are confident that we will give them the joy with a good result,” said Harib al Saadi, one of the key Omani players.

Saadi, a midfielder, who featured in Oman’s win over Japan, said ‘it would be a great experience tomorrow at the Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex as we will have our fans to cheer us’.

Fans will return to the SQSC for the first time since November 19, 2019 when Oman hosted India and recorded a solitary goal win with Mohsin al Ghassani scoring the all-important goal in the 33rd minute of the match.

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