FIFA World Cup Qualifier: Afghanistan and India share the spoils
Dushanbe (Tajikistan): It was so near yet so far for India as they settled for a point against Afghanistan in the FIFA World Cup Qualifier at a foggy Republican Central Stadium here on Thursday.
A Zelfagar Nazary goal in the 46th minute was cancelled out by a Seminlen Doungel header in the 92 minute. Three draws and a loss puts India in fourth spot with three points behind Afghanistan in third who are a point ahead. India has four more matches in this round of the tournament.
The hosts started the game strong pressing India and trying to make the most of their physical strength. They were happy to sit deep and let India have the ball. India started slowly and were struggling to break through the well drilled Afghani defence. It took 26 minutes for the men in blue to register a meaningful shot on target.
Despite being 43 ranks below India in the FIFA rankings, Afghanistan were playing with the confidence that the visitors were clearly lacking. Both teams need a win here to have any hopes of qualifying to the next round.
India were playing an attacking 4-3-3 formation with Mandar Rao Desai at leftback and Ashique Kuruniyan as the left forward. The combination had a lot of attacking input but left gaping holes in the defence. Afghanistan took advantage of the situation and kept attacking through their right.
Afghani rightback David Najem took advantage of the space available and it led to the goal. His overlapping run and low cutback found Zelfagar Nazary just inside the Indian penalty box.
Nazary’s first time effort was too much for keeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu to handle. The keeper got a hand to the ball but that was not enough to prevent the ball from resting in the net. It was the goal that India did not want to concede. That was the last piece of action in the first half.
Igor Stimac made changes at half time. He took off Mandar Rao Desai and brought in Farukh Choudhary. The substitute slotted in as left forward while Ashique Kuruniyan shifted to leftback. India were more cautious in the second half and Afghanistan was more than happy to sit back and defend.
In the second half, India played with more purpose but a good final ball eluded the men in blue. In the 56th minute, a Sunil Chhetri strike was beaten away by Afghan keeper Ovays Azizi.
Minutes later, India made their second change introducing Manvir Singh for Sahal Abdul Samad. The Keralite struggled to add the creative spark India needed and should be disappointed. India shifted to a traditional 4-4-2 with two men up front.
Against the run of play, Afghanistan hit the crossbar in the 65th minute. Substitute Norlla Amiri found a pocket of space in the middle of the park and moved forward with the ball. His shot from just outside the box dipped, hit the bar and went out for a goal-kick.
Soon It was India’s chance to attack. Udanta Singh’s header was parried away by Azizi. The resulting corner was headed in by Chhetri who couldn’t beat the keeper.
With 20 minutes to play, India looked like they were running out of ideas and options. In the 76th minute, Adam Najem’s shot from outside the box was beaten away by Gurpreet. The ball fell to David Najem but his shot was wide of the target.
Soon, rightback Pritam Kotal was replaced by Seminlen Doungel as India were desperate for a goal. Afghan looked to exploit India’s lack of defensive cover.
In the 83rd minute, Manvir Singh’s header went to the wrong side of the post. It looked like Indians were running out of luck along with time. In the 87th minute, Brandon Fernandes’ shot got deflected but it was straight down the throat of Azizi.
In the 92nd minute, Seminlen Doungel equalised from a Brandon Fernandes corner. A good move by the goal scorer had led to the corner. Brandon’s cross found Doungel in space and the forward headed home despite being considerably shorter than the Afghan defenders. The hosts looked deflated but held on for a point.
In another match in the group, Oman defeated Bangladesh 1-0 to remain second with 9 points from four games. With 10 points from four games, Qatar are leading the group whole Bangladesh are rock bottom with a solitary point.
The results favour the top two teams despite four more games remaining to be played in the round.