The Indian football team returned to action after a gap of almost 500 days on Thursday when they took on Oman in an international friendly. The Blue Tigers were up against a much higher-ranked opposition at Maktoum Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Stadium in Dubai and yet they persevered to eke out a 1-1 draw.
It was a new-look side, without talismanic captain Sunil Chhetri, as Igor Stimac named six debutants in the starting line-up and handed debuts to four more players during the second half. But not for once did the youngsters look fazed or afraid of the opposition.
Even as Oman tried to pierce through India's defence and threatened to dominate with long spells of possession, Stimac's boys held their own and defended resolutely. Through the first half, they couldn't really create a lot of chances and Oman went ahead when the young Chinglensana put the ball into his own net while trying to clear a cross.
In the second half, Stimac made a couple of changes. NorthEast United FC's Apuia, who won the Indian Super League (ISL) emerging player of 2020-21, impressed with his calm and composed performance. With Apuia's introduction, the Indian midfield looked more settled and they started creating a few chances. Soon they were rewarded for their efforts.
Ashutosh Mehta did well to win the ball high up the pitch and found Bipin Singh in a good position. Bipin, who himself has had a brilliant season for Mumbai City FC, looked up and saw Manvir making a run in between the two central defenders. He needed no further invitation to curl one into the box and Manvir met it perfectly with his head to nod it home.
The rest of the game was a battle of attrition as the two teams attacked to get a winner, but that remained elusive for the day.