India and Afghanistan played out a 1-1 draw in a Group E match of the World Cup 2022 and Asian Cup China 2023 Qualifiers here on Tuesday, and Sunil Chhetri’s team advanced to the third round.
India finished at the third position in Group E with seven points from eight matches, a point above Afghanistan.
India took the lead via a 75th-minute own goal courtesy of a blunder from Afghanistan goalkeeper Ovays Azizi. The Afghans, though, levelled soon after through a wonder goal from teenage sensation Hossein Zamani.
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. India had a chance in the first minute, with Manvir Singh squeezing out a shot from a tight angle, forcing a save from Azizi. That set the tone for the early periods as India dominated possession. They won multiple corners, Sandesh Jhingan coming closest to scoring with a powerful header from a Brandon Fernandes corner, but the effort was cleared off the line by Afghan defender Haroon Amiri.
India started to grow into the game soon enough with Glan Martins was putting in a lot of hard work in the middle of the park. 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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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 (GK); Rahul Bheke, Chinglensana Singh, Sandesh Jhingan, Subhasish Bose; Glan Martins, Brandon Fernandes (Lalengmawia Ralte 62’), Suresh Singh Wangjam; Manvir Singh, Sunil Chhetri (C) (Liston Colaco 69’), Ashique Kuruniyan (Bipin Singh 81’).