Kolkata– The inspirational Sunil Chhetri would look to continue from where he left against Cambodia as India face Afghanistan in their second match of the Asian Cup Qualifiers here on Saturday. On an evening of missed opportunities, the 37-year-old veteran struck a goal in each half to give Igor Stimac’s side all three points, ensuring the group hosts keep ahead of Hong Kong on goal difference after Jorn Andersen’s team won 2-1 over Afghanistan in the first match on Wednesday.
Seeking to make a second successive Asian Cup Finals, the Chhetri-led India would look to bring out their best, especially up front with the likes of Liston Colaco, Manvir Singh, Udanta Singh, Ashique Kuruniyan, and Roshan Singh hoping to improve their finishing abilities. All of them got ample opportunities but failed to make an impact as far as scoring was concerned and it was once again left to the veteran to settle the nerves with his brace that took his international tally to 82 goals, behind Cristiano Ronaldo (117) and Lionel Messi (86).
“I’m tired of answering this question,” Stimac said when asked about life after Chhetri. “When he’s (Sunil) with us, I don’t care if others are not scoring. If he’s not here, then others will start scoring. Why look for someone else when he’s scoring two goals every day?” he asked.
From the Afghan’s point of view, it will be a do-or-die match and the physically stronger team would look to make it count against the Indian backline of Roshan Singh, Sandesh Jhingan, Anwar Ali, and Akash Mishra, who impressed the most in their outing against Cambodia.
In such a scenario, the onus would be on the attacking line-up to “kill the contest” by scoring early goals, something that buried Afghanistan against Hong Kong. The fitness of Roshan has been a concern after their outing against Cambodia and Stimac said they would assess his niggle on the sidelines of their training. “Of course, this match will be much more difficult. There are a lot of quality movements against Hong Kong. They kept changing positions and made many crosses into the box. “We have to be clever and very good at attacking. We have to win more aerial duels. We have to concentrate well and remain composed. I’ve full confidence of a win,” Stimac added.
India, who enjoy a 6-1 record on head-to-head from 10 meetings against the ‘Lions of Khorasan’, however, have not won against them since January 3, 2016, in the SAFF Championships. Since then the Blue Tigers have endured two 1-1 draws in the World Cup Qualifiers, something that was highlighted by Afghanistan coach Anoush Dastgir, who said they are in search of ‘revenge’ at the Qualifier. On their defeat against Hong Kong, he said: “in the first minutes we killed ourselves, it was very hard to come back.” But, going by their outing against Hong Kong, Dastgir’s side rarely threatened to bar their captain Farshad Noor’s 81st-minute strike, which reduced their margin. The key to their attacks will rest on Faysal Shayesteh, just one goal away from becoming Afghanistan’s all-time top-scorer.
India: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu; Pritam Kotal, Sandesh Jhingan, Anwar Ali, Subhasish Bose; Suresh Singh, Anirudh Thapa, Sahal Abdul Samad; Ashique Kuruniyan, Liston Colaco; Sunil Chhetri.
Afghanistan: Ovays Azizi, Najim Haidary, Sharif Mukhammad, David Najem, Zelfagar Nazary, Noor Husin, Farshad Noor, Omid Popalzay, Maziar Kouhyar, Omran Haydary. Moshtaq Ahmadi.
When to watch the AFC Asian Cup qualifiers match between India and Afghanistan? Group D of the 2023 AFC Asian Cup final round qualifiers will be held in Kolkata on Wednesday, June 11 2022 at 8.30 PM IST
Where to watch the AFC Asian Cup qualifiers match between India and Afghanistan? Group D of the 2023 AFC Asian Cup final round qualifiers will be broadcast LIVE on Star Sports 3. It will also be LIVE streamed on Disney+Hotstar and Jio TV.