AFC Asian Cup qualifiers, India vs Afghanistan preview: Physical challenge awaits victory-chasing Blue Tigers
Indian men’s football team face Afghanistan in their second match of the third round of AFC Asian Cup qualifiers on Saturday at the Salt Lake stadium in Kolkata. The Blue Tigers who beat Cambodia in their first match on Wednesday could take a giant step towards confirming their presence in next year’s AFC Asian Cup finals with a victory on Saturday.
India head coach Igor Stimac sounded confident ahead of the match against Afghanistan but also showed plenty of respect to their opponent as he addressed their physical attributes during the pre-match press conference on Friday.
🗣️ "There's a real belief within the team that they can go out and get results"@masefield2110 believes @IndianFootball have the momentum as they face Afghanistan next in the AFC #AsianCup2023 Qualifiers! 🇮🇳💪— Indian Super League (@IndSuperLeague) June 9, 2022
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India and Afghanistan recently clashed in the FIFA World Cup qualifiers with both the encounters between them ending in 1-1 draws. Stimac’s men left it late to equalise in the first game in Dushanbe in 2019 before Anoush Dastgir’s team came back to level it at 1-1 in the reverse game in Doha in 2021.
Afghanistan though suffered a shock 1-2 defeat against Hong Kong in the last match and nothing less than a win will keep their chances of qualifying for the AFC Asian Cup finals alive.
India come into the match in mixed form as they have lost three and won two of their last five matches. However, all their defeats have come away from home and against stronger opposition. They will be looking to build on their 2-0 win over Cambodia in their last match.
Afghanistan has only managed to win one game in their last five encounters. The win came against the Kuwait U-23 side. Their last match was against Hong Kong which they lost 2-1 .
India and Afghanistan have faced each other on nine occasions. In those nine encounters, India came on top in four while Afghans managed to win three, and two matches ended in a draw. The last time India faced the Lions of Khurasan was in 2019 in FIFA World Cup Qualifiers at the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium in Doha, Qatar. The match ended in a 1-1 draw. The earlier game in the World Cup qualifiers which was held in Dushanbe also ended in a 1-1 draw as India equalised in the dying minutes through Seiminlen Doungel.
AFC Asian Cup qualifiers: All you need to know about Afghanistan, India's opponents in the third-round group
Sunil Chhetri vs Sharif Mukhammad: Sunil Chhetri has proved time and again that he is India’s biggest goal threat even at 37. He showed it again when he netted a brace against Cambodia in India’s 2-0 win. Afghanistan will have to stop him to have any chance in the match and that responsibility will fall on Sharif Mukhammad who plays as a defender for the Afghanistan side. Mukhammed who plays for Gokulam Kerala in the Hero I-League is in fine shape having featured for the Kerala side in the AFC Cup recently.
Farshad Noor vs Brandon Fernandes: When two teams that are fairly evenly matched collide, then the battle in the midfield often determines the outcome. So the contest between Afghanistan captain Noor and Fernandes is likely to be vital. The FC Goa midfielder was at the heart of everything India created against Cambodia and also provided the assist for Chhetri’s second goal. Noor will be tasked with keeping tabs on the creative midfielder who has the ability to unlock the Afghanistan defence.
Omid Popalzay vs Suresh Singh Wangjam: The Bengaluru FC midfielder was excellent against Cambodia but he will have a slightly different challenge when he comes up against Afghanistan’s Popalzay on Saturday. The attacking midfielder not only has an eye for goal but has the habit of slipping into the gap between midfield and defence, causing problems for the opponent. Suresh will have to track his man and ensure he is not able to influence the game to his liking.
Fixture: India vs Afghanistan
Date: June 11, 2022
Time: 8:30 PM (IST)
Venue: Salt Lake stadium, Kolkata
Telecast: Star Sports Network, Disney+Hotstar, and Jio TV