Indian football team's hopes of making it to the 2022 FIFA World Cup were dealt a huge blow after it drew 1-1 with Afghanistan in their Group E Asian Cup and World Cup Qualifier at the Central Republican Stadium in Dushanbe, Tajikistan on Thursday. Seiminlen Doungel headed home in the third minute of injury time to rescue a point for India after Zelfagar Nazary opened the scoring for Afghanistan at the stroke of half-time.
India's third draw of the campaign jeopardises its qualifying chances as the team stands fourth in the five-team Group E with Qatar leading the group with 10 points. Eight group winners and four best second-placed teams go through to the next round.
The first half saw the Blue Tigers start well with Pritam Kotal creating a couple of crossing opportunities from the right flank which were cleared by the Afghan defence. India's best chance came in the 27th minute when Sahal Abdul Samad and Ashique Kuruniyan exchanged passes on the edge of the box as the latter's shot missed the cross bar by few inches.
Afghanistan looked sharp on the counter attack and used the right flank effectively creating multiple problems for full back Mandar Rao Dessai. Dastgir's team threatened from set-pieces by winning corners and free-kicks on the right side. In the 39th minute, Faysal Shayesteh drew a save from Gurpreet Singh Sandhu with a stinging shot from outside the box.
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It looked as if both teams would go into the break goalless before Zelfagar Nazary stunned the Indian fans when he burst into the box to smash David Najem's low cross past Gurpreet.
Igor Stimac sent in Farukh Choudhary for Mandar to inject a sense of urgency in the final third. In the 58th minute, Ashique's cross from the left narrowly missed Sunil Chhetri inside the box who saw his header saved by goalkeeper Ovays Azizi moments later. Afghanistan went close to doubling its lead, when substitute Noraollah Amiri rattled the bar with powerful drive from 25 yards out.
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Chhetri was unlucky to see his header go wide after he latched on to a corner kick from Brandon Fernandes in the 67th minute. The Indian skipper put substitute Manvir Singh through to the goal in the 84th minute, but saw a header fly off target.
With just two minutes remaining in injury time, Brandon's pin-point corner kick was met by Doungel at the far post, who jumped over his marker to head in the equaliser.
India 1 (Seiminlen Doungel 90+3') drew with Afghanistan 1 (Zelfagar Nazary 45+1')
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