Oman host Iran in much-awaited World Cup qualifier

Oman host Iran in much-awaited World Cup qualifier
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Published October 8th, 2015 - 13:02 GMT via

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Oman national football team
Oman national football team

In a clash to go on top of the table, hosts Oman take on much fancied Iran in a Group D qualifier for the 2018 FIFA World Cup at the Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex on Thursday. The match kicks off at 6.30pm.

Both the teams have seven points each, from three matches, and a win for either the Red Warriors or Team Melli will put them in pole position to advance to the next round. Iran currently leads Oman on goal-difference.

Both the coaches, Oman's Paul Le Guen and Iran's Carlos Queiroz, are experienced campaigners and agreed that it would be a tough contest.

Speaking at a press meet at City Seasons Hotel on the eve of the match on Wednesday, Le Guen said, “It is an important and a tough match. We are aware that Iran is a quality side with top-class players. My boys have to play to their best abilities and work hard on the pitch.”

“We respect Iran as a team. But I have asked my players not to be too respectful in the match. On the pitch, it’s the same for all,” the Frenchman warned.

The coach was satisfied with the fitness levels of his players since the team's last qualifier in Guam on September 8.

“It was good that the players were able to play with their respective clubs after the Guam game. They are in much better physical shape,” he said.

The Oman strikers' poor finishing in front of goal has been a major worry for the French coach after the Red Warriors failed to score against lowly-ranked Guam in the away game.

The hosts' attacking options have been further depleted with the absence of star forward Abdulaziz al Miqbali, who has been picked in the Oman team that is taking part in the World Military Games, currently underway in South Korea.

Le Guen said, “The absence of Abdulaziz is a blow. We will miss him, but we have prepared accordingly. I have an experienced striker in Imad al Hosni and I trust him to deliver.

We have tried out various combinations during the past week during the camp and also during a training match against Syria [on October 2].”

Oman beat Syria 2-1, but Le Guen did not read much into the result, saying, 'it was just a training game'.

Hosni said, “It is a big game and I hope we get the support of our fans. They make a difference and it would be nice to get a positive result in front of a packed stadium.”

Hosni was on target in Oman's opening match of the qualifying campaign against India (2-1) and then against Turkmenistan (3-1) at home.

In the absence of Miqbali, Le Guen may push Saud al Farsi to team up with Hosni upfront. The seasoned quartet of Qasim Said, Raeed Ibrahim, Eid al Farsi and Ahmed Mubarak 'Kanu' will likely be manning the midfield, while the defence is likely to be marshalled by Abdulsalam Amour, Mohammed al Mussallami, Ali al Busaidi and Saad Suhail.

Skipper Ali al Habsi comes into the match with lots of confidence after a clean sheet in Reading's 2-0 win against Middlesborough in an English Championship tie on Saturday.

A lot is expected from the dependable Habsi as the hosts seek to keep the Iranians at bay.

‘Iran fully prepared’

Queiroz, meanwhile, said that his team is fully prepared and is looking for nothing short of three points.

The last time Iran visited Muscat in May 2013, it suffered a 1-3 defeat at the hands of Oman at the same venue.

The 62 year old Portuguese, who took over as Iran coach in 2011, said, “Oman has always provided a tough challenge to Iran. We have learnt our lesson from the previous defeat. We look to change history as Iran hasn’t had a positive result against Oman in 14 years.”

Iran's last win against Oman came in 2001 in Tehran when it beat the visitors 5-2. Since then, Oman has either drawn or won against its higher-ranked rival.

At No 39, Iran is currently Asia’s highest-ranked team, while Oman is in No 102.

“The FIFA ranking is just a ranking - it doesn't mean too much,” Queiroz said.

Team Melli will look to 20 year old striker Sardar Azmoun, who leads the team's scoring chart with four goals in this campaign. Since the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, Iran has won nine out of the 13 matches.

Iran got off to slow start to its campaign as it was held to a 1-1 draw by Turkmenistan on June 16. After that, Team Melli recorded back-to-back wins over Guam (6-0) and India (3-0).

Norouzi’s death

Queiroz as well as Iran's captain, Andranik Teymourian, offered their condolences to the family of Persepolis captain and former Iran international forward Hadi Norouzi, who died of a heart attack last week. He was 30.

“We are all saddened by the untimely death of Norouzi, but we have to move on.

“The team is determined and fully prepared after going through a good training camp in Dubai, UAE for a week,” said Teymourian.

© Apex Press and Publishing

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