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India play Oman tonight, 492 days after their last international match

As India face Oman in a friendly tonight after 492 days of inaction, Sunil Chhetri will be an obvious miss for a young Indian side.

Sunil Chhetri India Oman friendly
Sunil Chhetri (Source: AIFF)

Sayan Chatterjee

Updated: 25 March 2021 1:44 PM GMT

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More than a year since they last played an international match, 492 days to be precise, the Indian football team will be taking on Oman at the Maktoum Bin Rashid Stadium in Dubai tonight. While Oman are ranked considerably higher than India at 81 compared to our 104, this match does provide India the chance to start afresh and come up trumps against an opponent whom we've never beaten before.

In nine matches between the two teams so far, India have managed to eke out a draw just twice, going on to lose the remaining seven. Even the goal difference in those games is a humongous +17 for Oman, something that fans will be wary of coming into the friendly game. However, what should also come as some sort of respite for Indian football fans is that the national team is finally going to play an international match after so long.

The delay couldn't have been helped though. Since their last match, which was also against Oman on 19th November 2019, India had been scheduled to play their World Cup qualifiers multiple times over the entirety of 2020. But with the pandemic still raging on in most Asian countries, the whole year passed without any international action in Asia. Then, the qualifiers were expected to happen in March but they had to be pushed further back to June/July keeping in mind the domestic schedules.

India without Sunil Chhetri in the squad for the first time in years

This is the first time in quite a few years that Sunil Chhetri will not be part of the Indian squad altogether for an international commitment as the talismanic captain has contracted the coronavirus and is currently recuperating at home. He has missed matches of course, but they have been very few and far between. India managed to hold Qatar to a goalless draw in 2019 against Asian Champions Qatar in a World Cup qualifying match. India also played without him in the lineup in the second match of the 2019 King's Cup where India beat Thailand 1-0.

The last time that the Indian team played without Chhetri in the eleven, excluding matches against SAFF nations, was when they last faced Jordan just before the 2019 Asian Cup. Before that game, Chhetri missed the last group game in India's Asian Cup qualifying campaign in early 2018 against Kyrgyzstan. This time though, he was suspended for picking up two yellow cards in the preceding games.

Probably the last time that Chhetri missed a few back-to-back games was way back in 2017 in the friendlies against Nepal, Mauritius and St Kitts Nevis. The team won the first two games but were held to a draw by St Kitts Nevis. This time though, one can hope that the form that some of the youngsters have shown domestically can carry India through to the finish line even without the captain, leader, legend.

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