In recent years, a burgeoning football rivalry has emerged between India and Afghanistan, setting the stage for an intense battle not just for pride, but also for crucial three points in the FIFA World Cup 2026 and AFC Asian Cup 2027 Joint Qualifiers Round 2 matches slated for March. 

India, having secured one win and one defeat in their opening two qualifier games in Group A, now face Afghanistan as their next challenge. The Lions of Khorasan will first clash with Igor Stimac’s squad in Abha, Saudi Arabia on Thursday, followed by a reverse leg in Guwahati on Tuesday. 

Interestingly, this marks the second consecutive occasion where these two teams find themselves drawn together in the same World Cup qualifying group, following the 2022 campaign where they were pitted along with Qatar and Oman, with the latter two progressing to the third round. 

With this backdrop, let's delve deeper into Afghanistan's footballing history, key players, and more.


The Afghanistan Football Federation traces its roots back to the 1920s and gained membership in FIFA in 1948, subsequently joining the Asian Football Confederation six years later. In its early years, football flourished as one of the nation's most beloved sports until it was overshadowed by decades of war and insurgency.

Their inaugural international match took place in 1941 against Iran, held at the Ghazi Stadium, ending in a goalless draw. Despite early participation in events like the 1948 Olympic Games and the 1951 and 1954 Asian Games, where they faced defeats in all their fixtures, Afghanistan's football journey was significantly hampered by the turmoil of war.

However, the early 2000s saw a resurgence as they re-entered the football arena, notably competing against Korea Republic in the 2002 Asian Games, marking their return after a hiatus since their last international match against Jordan in 1984.

A milestone achievement came in 2013 when Afghanistan clinched their first international title, triumphing over India to capture the SAFF Championship. Despite appearing in the competition seven times, they've finished as runners-up twice, both times losing to India.

Presently, the team is under the guidance of Ashley Westwood, who was appointed as head coach in November 2023. The Englishman brings with him a wealth of experience from his previous stints in Indian football, having managed prominent clubs such as Bengaluru FC, ATK FC, and RoundGlass Punjab FC.

Form Guide 

Afghanistan: LLWWL

Afghanistan has faced a challenging start to their World Cup qualifying journey, experiencing significant setbacks with heavy defeats against Qatar (1-8) and Kuwait (0-4) in their initial two matches. Before these qualifiers, they navigated past lower-ranked Mongolia over two legs in the first round. However, their preparation for the qualifiers hit a stumbling block with a friendly loss to the Philippines.

India: LLLLW 

The Blue Tigers have encountered a rough patch, remaining winless in their last four matches, suffering defeats in all of them. Their struggles were particularly evident in the AFC Asian Cup, where India faced setbacks against Australia (0-2), Uzbekistan (0-3), and Syria (0-2), ultimately finishing at the bottom of their group. Before their disappointing performance in the continental competition, India faced a defeat at home to Qatar in the World Cup qualifiers. However, they kicked off their qualifying campaign with a hard-fought victory over Kuwait, securing a gritty win away from home.

Head-to-head record

Following Nepal, Afghanistan stands as the team India has encountered most frequently over the past 15 years. The two sides have faced each other on 19 occasions, with India winning 13 of these games. On the other hand, Afghanistan have secured just two wins, once in the 2010 SAF Games and the 2013 SAFF Championship final.

Their recent matchups have spanned three consecutive SAFF Championship finals, two World Cup Qualifiers games, and one AFC Asian Cup 2023 Qualifier. 

The roots of this rivalry trace back to 1949 when the two nations engaged in a couple of friendlies in Kabul. Their inaugural competitive encounter unfolded during the 1951 Asian Games in Delhi, culminating in a victory for India.

Recent clashes between the two sides have been tightly contested. India found themselves held to 1-1 draws in both of their 2022 World Cup qualifiers meetings against Afghanistan. Moreover, Afghanistan came agonisingly close to securing a draw in their last encounter during the 2023 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers. However, Sahal Abdul Samad's injury-time goal secured a dramatic victory for India in Kolkata, showcasing the intensity and competitiveness of this long-standing rivalry.

Key players

Ovayz Azizi

Azizi stands as one of the seasoned players within the Afghanistan squad, serving as the primary goalkeeper. Aged 32, he boasts a wealth of experience and has predominantly pursued his professional career abroad. Azizi has plied his trade in Denmark, Sweden, and the Maldives, showcasing his talent across various leagues. Currently, he plies his trade for Hillerod Fodbold, a prominent club competing in Denmark's top-tier league.

Balal Arezou

35-year-old forward Arezou emerges as another key figure in Afghanistan's squad, bringing a wealth of experience to the team. With a notable career primarily centred in Norway, Arezou also had a stint with the I-League side Churchill Brothers during the 2013-14 season. Currently donning the jersey of Norwegian club IF Trauma, Arezou holds the distinction of being Afghanistan's second-highest top scorer with nine goals to his name. He even scored against India in the 2013 SAFF Championship final in Nepal.

Mustafa Azadzoy

Azadzoy epitomises creativity within the team, adept at operating both as an attacking midfielder and a winger. Throughout his career, he has predominantly showcased his skills in Thailand, with occasional spells in Germany. 

Currently representing German club Atlas Delmenhorst, which competes in the country's fourth-tier league, Azadzoy's experience, versatility and creativity make him a valuable asset for both club and country. 

At 31 years old, he also assumes a leadership role within the team, serving as one of the captains, donning the armband during Afghanistan's encounter against Qatar.

Match details

Fixture: Afghanistan vs India

Date: March 22, 2024

Venue: Damac Stadium, Abha, Saudi Arabia

Time: 12:30 AM IST

Telecast: DD Sports

Live streaming: Fancode