India squared up against Afghanistan in their second Group D encounter of the 2023 AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers. After silencing Cambodia in their last game courtesy of two Sunil Chhetri goals, the Blue Tigers were eager to add another victory to their tally before the ultimate face-off against Hong Kong.
With Hong Kong securing a win against Cambodia in their AFC Asian Cup Qualifier match, this tie was of much significance to the Indian national football team.
In the build-up to this game, head coach Igor Stimac fielded a slightly different side owing to the quality of the opposition. Ashique Kuruniyan was in the starting 11 and was deployed on the left flank with Liston Colaco taking a more central role.
The clash was an end-to-end thriller with Afghanistan looking to undo the mishaps of their previous AFC Asian Cup Qualifier match against Hong Kong.
The Lions of Khorasan were eager to keep India at bay right from the start. Anoush Dastgir's side indeed kept the pressure on the Indian national team while they were in possession.
At the back, skipper Sunil Chhetri was closely marked by Zohib Islam Amiri. The Afghan defender did not allow too much freedom for Chhetri in the final third.
But the Blue Tigers kept barging on the doors of the Afghan defense. Igor Stimac's side managed to earn four corners in the first 15 minutes. India played a more possession-based game as Afghanistan employed a counter-attacking system.
However, as the half progressed, there were moments when the Indian defense failed to deal with the danger properly. At one stage, they ended up conceding back-to-back corners. Much of it was due to counter-pressing measures adopted by the Afghan national team.
India weren't pressing too hard. The Blue Tigers were rather passive in their defensive duties in the opposition's half. But the side was sharper in attack.
Ashique Kuruniyan caused major problems for Afghanistan's right wing-back. Liston Colaco, who was deployed in a more central role, played an active role in disorienting the opposition's block.
Sahal turns star as India produce late winner against resilient Afghanistan
With the teams tied at the break, the second-half of this AFC Asian Cup Qualifier promised even more intensity from both sides. The Indian skipper missed an easy chance early in the second-half.
Liston was taken off to be replaced by Brandon Fernandes. The Blue Tigers had more of the possession but the side failed to capitalize on this. They had a difficult time progressing the ball through the central channel.
Brandon's impact on the game was visible. But moments later, the FC Goa midfielder threw away a golden opportunity. Ashique Kuruniyan sprinted down the left flank and delivered a well-weighted ball into the box.
The first line of defense was dragged away by the forwards and Brandon had enough time to take a touch and convert the chance. But the attacking midfielder blasted it wide.
As the match entered the final 10 minutes, Ashique was fouled just outside the box. Sunil Chhetri stood behind the ball and the skipper noticed a small gap in the Afghan wall.
He chose to strike in that direction and managed to convert the chance for the opening goal of the game. But not long after Chhetri's opener, Afghanistan drew parity into the game with an equalizing goal from Zubayr Amiri.
The header was spot-on and Gurpreet Singh could not do anything to prevent the ball from crossing the line.
However, as the match approached its conclusion, an attacking move constructed by Ashique ended with the ball being passed to Sahal. The Kerala Blasters FC midfielder managed to run across the goal and release a low-shot that ended up in the back of the net.
Vivekananda Yuva Bharati Krirangan roared at the sight of the late winner. The match ended 2-1 in favor of Igor Stimac's side with the hopes of qualification for the AFC Asian Cup now resting on the clash against Hong Kong.