Goalkeeper previews international weekend for OmanOman have never qualified for the World Cup – but national team captain Ali Al-Habsi is confident that his nation can go one step closer to reaching Russia 2018 during the forthcoming international break.
With just two games remaining in the AFC’s second round of qualifiers, Oman sit second in their group behind Asia’s top-ranked team Iran. With a game in hand over third-placed Turkmenistan, Oman can secure a place in the third and final qualifying round by beating Guam in Muscat on Thursday.
Minnows Guam held Oman to an unlikely draw in September – if they can prevent Oman from taking the three points once again, it will almost certainly require a result against Iran on their final matchday in Tehran; Turkmenistan will be confident of a win on their trip to India on the final day, as India have lost all but one of their games so far.
“It will be very tough and very difficult – we have played many games,” said Ali. “I will travel, then we have two big games for me and Oman with the national team.
“It is a big thing to play with your national team and for your country. We will enjoy the ten days with the national team; we play Guam at home and then it’s a massive game in Iran. We need to win both of them. Hopefully we will be ready for them.
“Iran will be the difficult one – especially in Iran it will be tough. We will go there and with one thought – to win. We will go there to get the three points.”
Ali is by no means the only Royal in international action over the course of the weekend – plenty of his teammates are heading around the globe to pull on their nations’ colours.
Amongst that number is Jake Cooper, who has been selected for England’s Under-20s to face Canada in Doncaster; Reading goalkeeper Al-Habsi paid tribute to the impact that the centre-half has had in his breakthrough campaign.
“Jake has been brilliant,” he continued. “What he is achieving now is the result. He has been fantastic since the first game when he came into the team and he is getting stronger and stronger. I am very pleased – I am very happy for him.
“He is a good, young, talented player. Like I said before – he is going to be a huge player for the football club.”