Monday , July 26 2021

India finish third in Asian Qualifiers Group E after Afghanistan draw!

Afghanistan and India played out a 1-1 draw in their last match of Group E of the 2022 FIFA World Cup – Qatar and 2023 AFC Asian Cup – China Joint Qualifier at the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium in Doha on Tuesday, June 15. With this result, India finish third place in the standings with seven points from eight matches.

India took the lead via a 75th-minute own goal courtesy of Afghanistan goalkeeper Ovays Azizi, but the Afghans pulled back their equaliser minutes later, through their teenage sensation Hossein Zamani. A third-place finish in Group E means that India move directly to the third round of qualifiers for the 2023 AFC Asian Cup – China.

India head coach Igor Stimac made two changes to the side that started for the Blue Tigers against Bangladesh in the previous game, with Bipin Singh and Udanta Singh making way for Rahul Bheke and Ashique Kuruniyan.

The Blue Tigers got out 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. The resulting corner by Brandon was cleared, but it fell kindly to Glan Martins on the edge of the area, whose shot was eventually blocked.

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

India started to grow into the game soon enough and Manvir once again raced down the right and played it through to an overlapping Suresh Singh Wangjam, who earned a corner for the side. Sandesh Jhingan managed to get a firm header onto the Brandon corner but the effort was cleared off the line by Afghan defender Haroon Amiri.

Glan Martins was putting in a lot of hard work in the middle of the park as he managed to make a crucial interception in the attacking third, before passing it to Sunil Chhetri, whose shot was again saved by Azizi.

Brandon Fernandes was his usual self throughout the first 45 minutes, threading his passes to the attacking options again and again. A free-kick in the middle of the park around the 20th minute turned into a chance when Brandon chipped it towards Chhetri inside the box, but Masih Saighani was alert to the danger and cleared the ball.

Five minutes later, Ashique managed to beat Amiri down the left flank and dashed into the box, before attempting a grounded cutback aimed at Chhetri. Saighani was once again up to the task and intercepted the ball before any damage could be inflicted.

A little after the half-hour mark, Afghanistan made an inroad into the India 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, a few minutes later. Popalazay floated the ball in towards Amiri, but Jhingan was on hand to get in the way and avert the danger.

With a little under five minutes of regulation time of the first half left on the clock, Afghan forward Amir Sharifi manufactured some space outside the Indian penalty area and pulled the trigger. However, his left-footed effort was straight at Gurpreet, who smothered the ball comfortably.

At the stroke of the 45th minute, Suresh made a crucial interception in the middle of the park, to catch the Afghan defence off-guard. The young midfielder carried the ball to the edge of the Afghan area, before playing it through to Manvir. However, Afghan keeper Azizi came out bravely to foil the opportunity, as the referee soon blew his whistle to end the first half.

After the changeover, Afghanistan looked to string a few passes together in the Indian half but ended up giving away a chance to their opponents. Ashique intercepted a pass in the middle of the park and raced up the middle, 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, the Blue Tigers started to play the ball out of the back. A little under 10 minutes into the second half, one particular chance was created out of a string of passes that started all the way from the keeper.

Gurpreet found Suresh in the defensive half, as the latter played it to Bheke with his first touch. Under pressure, the fullback struck the ball down the line to put Manvir through on the right flank once again but the cross was stopped.

Minutes later, Gurpreet made a crucial save to keep the scores at 0-0. Saighani hooved a long ball to Popalzay, who chested it down and volleyed it from outside the area, but Gurpreet was up to the task, as he plucked the ball out of the air.

Amiri stood in India’s way once again on the hour mark, when he headed way a free-kick by Brandon, that was aimed at Manvir, who had shaken off his marker inside the box, and looked set for a free header.

A bit of dogged work in the opposition third by Ashique meant that the winger found some real estate just outside the Afghan penalty area, but Amiri soon came across and bundled him over, taking a yellow card to avert the immediate danger. Sunil Chhetri stood over the free-kick, as he curled it inches over the bar.

That was the last action of the day for the Blue Tigers captain, as Igor Stimac brought on Liston Colaco in place of the 36-year-old. Meanwhile, Lalengmawia Ralte (Apuia) also came on for Brandon Fernandes.

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

India thought they had their 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. That was Ashique’s last action of the night, as he was replaced by Bipin Singh.

Afghanistan soon went on the attack, looking for the equaliser, and found it through their 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, but his header went over the crossbar. Both the sides had a few last exchanges in added time, but the clock soon ran down, as the match ended in a 1-1 draw.

India XI: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu – Rahul Bheke, Chinglensana Singh, Sandesh Jhingan, Subhasish Bose – Glan Martins, Brandon Fernandes (62′ Lalengmawia Ralte), Suresh Singh Wangjam – Manvir Singh, Sunil Chhetri (C) (69′ Liston Colaco), Ashique Kuruniyan (81′ Bipin Singh)

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