With Hong Kong winning their game against Cambodia today, the game became one that India could not afford to lose. A draw wouldn't do any side any good, and it was a must-win tie of sorts for both teams.
India started the game as the better team. The Blue Tigers made some good early moves into the Afghanistan half but failed to convert their chances.
Jeakson Singh had a glorious opportunity to give the Blue Tigers the lead from a Naorem Roshan Singh corner but failed to place his header on target.
Sunil Chhetri tried to score from an acrobatic effort in the 42nd minute but failed to get a proper connection with the ball.
The scoreboard at half-time read nil-nil. The second half started with both teams trying to control the game.
India made an early change in the second half by introducing Brandon Fernandes in place of Liston Colaco. The change had a positive impact on the Blue Tigers as they started creating more chances.
Sunil Chhetri gave the Blue Tigers the lead in the 86th minute courtesy of a free-kick from just outside the box.
The lead was short-lived as Afghanistan found the equalizer in the 88th minute through an Amiri header from a corner.
As the game looked to end in a draw, Vivekananda Yuva Bharati Krirangan in Kolkata witnessed some late drama as Sahal Abdul Samad scored the winner in added time. The Kerala Blasters midfielder received a pass from Ashique Kuruniyan inside the box, and his first-time shot found its way into the back of the net.
India secured the victory with this late goal.
On that note, let’s take a look at three talking points from today's game.
#3 India's have high chances of qualifying for the AFC Asian Cup 2023
With today's victory, India's chances of qualifying for the AFC Asian Cup 2023 are high. The Blue Tigers have secured second spot in the group and are well-placed to be one of the five best second-placed teams. If the Blue Tigers win their final game against Hong Kong, they will finish the group as toppers and qualify for the AFC Asian Cup 2023 directly.
A loss in the final group game could complicate matters for the Blue Tigers. Igor Stimac will want to win the game at any cost to secure a direct qualification spot as group topper.
#2 Afghanistan's physical brand of football backfires
Afghanistan tried to take advantage of their physical superiority today by playing a physical brand of football. Igor Stimac, though, looked prepared for the task as he made some changes in the starting eleven to deal with the threat Afghanistan posed physically. Stimac started with Jeakson in the starting eleven, giving the team a much-needed physical presence in midfield.
Playing Ashique from the beginning helped the Blue Tigers as his runs down the flanks kept the Afghanistan defenders busy.
Sandesh Jhingan, Anwar Ali, Suresh Wangjam, and Jeakson Singh made sure the Blue Tigers matched every physical battle that the Lions of Khorasan could throw at them.
Anoush Dastgir could have tried to use the tactical aspects of his players a bit more as they have the capability to play tactical football.
#1 Late goals from Sunil Chhetri and Sahal Abdul Samad secure victory
Till the 80th minute, it looked like the game would end in a stalemate. A draw would not have benefitted either side in general.
The Blue Tigers bench had a nervous look on their faces as the clock ticked towards the 90-minute mark. Captain Sunil Chhetri, though, gave the Blue Tigers much-needed relief as he scored the opening goal in the 86th minute from a free-kick.
The lead was short-lived as Afghanistan equalized in the 88th minute through an Amiri header from a corner.
As the game looked to end in a 1-1 draw, Sahal Abdul Samad combined with Ashique Kuruniyan to score the winning goal for the Blue Tigers.
Igor Stimac will be happy with the way his team played, especially in the second half, and the way they responded after conceding a late goal.