By: The Kabul Times
KABUL: The Indian football team faces Afghanistan in its final Group E match of the joint 2022 FIFA World Cup and the 2023 AFC Asian Cup second round qualifiers at Doha, Qatar, on Tuesday. The match kicks off at the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium from 6:30 PM AST.
Igor Stimac’s India finally broke their 11-match winless run with a 2-0 win over Bangladesh in their last outing, courtesy captain Sunil Chhetri’s brace. The win took India up to third in the Group E table with six points from seven matches.
The Afghanistan football team, meanwhile, lost its last game against Oman 2-1 and is placed fourth with five points, however the style played by the team received national praise and hope for defeating India at the final match of the group.
The final group game will bear immense significance for both sides as the third-placed team will secure a direct entry into the third round of the 2023 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers. Both India and Afghanistan are, however, out of the race for a World Cup spot.
With just one point separating them, Afghanistan needs to win the match, but a draw to keep India hold of their third position and enter the third round of Asian qualifiers directly.
Afghanistan, consequently, will be keen to win the match if they are to leapfrog India into that coveted third spot.
India will be boosted by the return of right-back Rahul Bheke, who missed the Bangladesh win due to suspension, but midfielder Anirudh Thapa (recovering from COVID-19) is still not available for selection.
The two Indian attackers, though, will be up against a familiar foe on Tuesday. Afghanistan defender Masih Saighani has played in the Indian Super League (ISL) for Chennaiyin FC in the past and will be familiar with both Brandon and Chhetri’s playing styles.
Saighani is also known for his aerial prowess from set-pieces, which will keep Indian goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu on his toes. Though India, ranked 105th in FIFA rankings, is placed higher than the 149th ranked Afghanistan, Chhetri and Co. cannot afford to take the Anoush Dastgir-coached side lightly.
The last time the two teams met in their first leg of the qualifiers, India was lucky to escape with a point. Afghanistan took the lead through Zelfy Nazary at the cusp of half-time, but Seiminlen Doungel struck in stoppage time to salvage a draw.