Indian reaches third round of AFC Asian Cup qualifiers with Afghanistan draw

The Indian national football team drew 1-1 against Afghanistan to progress to the third round of AFC Asian Cup 2023 qualifiers in Qatar on Tuesday.

Sunil Chhetri

Indian football team captain Sunil Chhetri in action against Afghanistan during the Group E game in Doha.   -  AIFF

India and Afghanistan played out a 1-1 draw in their last Group E match of the FIFA World Cup 2022 and AFC Asian Cup 2023 joint qualifiers at the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium in Doha, Qatar, on Tuesday.  With this result, India ended up third in the standings with seven points from eight matches.

A third-place finish in its group means that India will move directly to the third round of qualifiers for the next Asian Cup in China. India manager Igor Stimac made two changes to the side that started against Bangladesh in the previous game, with Bipin Singh and Udanta Singh making way for Rahul Bheke and Ashique Kuruniyan.

The Blue Tigers got off the blocks well right from kick-off as Manvir Singh soared up the right flank, made his way into the Afghanistan box and pulled the trigger. However, his shot was parried out for a corner by Afghan goalkeeper Ovays Azizi.

Afghanistan also attempted to create a few chances in the opening exchanges as David Ahmed Najem found some space on the right and whipped in a few crosses, but Indian custodian Gurpreet Singh Sandhu was alert and came out to collect the ball.

India vs Afghanistan - As it happened

A few moments later, Manvir once again raced down the right and played it through to an overlapping Suresh Singh Wangjam, who earned a corner for his side. Sandesh Jhingan managed to get a firm header onto the Brandon set-piece but the effort was cleared off the line by Haroon Amiri.

Immediately after the half-hour mark, Afghanistan made an inroad into the Indian half as Omid Popalzay was played through down the right. But Blue Tigers centre-back Chinglensana Singh came across and bundled into the midfielder, picking up a yellow card for his efforts to stop the attack.

Afghanistan started building up a bit of momentum and earned another free-kick in the Indian third of the pitch. Popalzay floated the ball towards Amiri, but Jhingan was on hand to get in the way and avert the danger.

After the changeover, Ashique intercepted a pass in midfield and rushed forward, looking to run at the Afghan defenders. He had options in the form of Chhetri on the left and Manvir on the right but was tackled by Amiri.

As India began to settle down in the second half, Gurpreet found Suresh in the defensive half. The latter then played the ball to Bheke. Under pressure, the full-back struck it down the line to put Manvir through on the right flank once again but the cross was stopped.

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India’s perseverance finally paid off in the 75th minute, when Ashique and Manvir worked some space on the left flank. The former had the time to send in a measured cross towards substitute Liston Colaco inside the box. Afghan keeper Azizi fumbled the ball while collecting it, and turned it into his own net.

India thought it had its second goal a few minutes later, when Ashique again weaved his way into the box and sent in a cross for Liston, who turned it in. However, the referee had already blown his whistle as he had adjudged Ashique to have carried the ball over the goalline.

Afghanistan soon went on the attack, looking for the equaliser, and found it through its teenage sensation Hossein Zamani, who came on in the second half. Receiving a cut-back from Noor Husin, Zamani curled a right-footer into the Indian goal, off the far post.

Manvir had a chance late in the second half, when he got his head onto a ball whipped in from the left by Subhasish Bose, but his header went over the crossbar. Both sides had a few late exchanges in added time, but the clock soon ran down as the match ended in a 1-1 draw.

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