Defender Rahul Bheke admitted that the Blue Tigers are really missing Sandesh Jhingan’s presence in the backline. With three draws and a loss, India will need two convincing wins at the very least in their next two games — away to Oman at the Al-Seeb Stadium on Tuesday being the next.
After two consecutive draws — against Bangladesh and Afghanistan — in fixtures that India should’ve won, they now face second-placed Oman. But with defensive concerns growing, especially the part where the Blue Tigers concede one late goal after another, Bheke admits that the absence of the injured Jhingan is very evident.
“Everyone knows how important Sandesh Jhingan is to India’s defence. We will really miss him in the match. He is really strong as a centre-back. What he can do in the defence, what he wants to do for the country, we will try to emulate the same and win the match,” Bheke told Hindustan Times in a telephone interview.
“We have to make sure that we do not do so in future games. Players have discussed this among themselves. We know that these qualifiers are extremely important. We cannot afford to make these mistakes,” he said.
When India faced Oman in their first FIFA World Cup 2022 Qualifying match at Guwahati’s Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium, 15,000 fans showed up and cheered their name. Captain Sunil Chhetri’s goal in the 24th minute gave India the lead as the voices in the stands just kept on chanting. But Oman’s centre-forward Al Mandhar Al Alawi scored two goals in the closing minutes to pull off an incredible comeback for the visitors.
“We started really well. The first half was really good for us. Everyone gave their best shot. We all were tired going into the second half. The conditions of the ground and the weather conditions took a toll. When we look back at the videos, the players look tired and that’s what cost us. Because of this, we conceded two goals in the final ten minutes,” Bheke said.
“Not only al Mandhar, there are several players in Oman’s attack who can be a threat. We will be keeping an eye out on everyone. Our efforts will be directed to get a clean sheet in the match,” Bheke added.