India sail into AFC Asian Cup qualifiers third round with Afghanistan draw

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Doha: Afghanistan and India played out a 1-1 draw in their last match of Group E of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and AFC Asian Cup China 2023 Joint Qualifier, at the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium on Tuesday. 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 AFC Asian Cup China 2023.

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.

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.

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 Chinglensana Singh came across and bundled into the midfielder, picking up a yellow card for his efforts to stop the attack.

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. 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.

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.

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.

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