Preview: High on confidence, India look to outmanoeuvre Afghanistan and finish third in Group E

India take on Afghanistan at the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium in Doha on Tuesday with an eye to sealing the third place in Group E of the 2022 FIFA World Cup and 2023 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers. 

With six points from seven games, India, who are presently third in the group and out of contention for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, need a draw against Afghanistan, who are fourth with five points from seven games, to seal the third place and directly qualify for the third round of the 2023 AFC Asian Cup to be held in China. 

Igor Stimac’s men will head into the game high on confidence, having beaten Bangladesh 2-0 last week, thanks to skipper Sunil Chhetri’s second-half brace. The Indians looked quite effective in the final third – compared to how their fared in their previous match against Asian champions Qatar -- with the likes of Brandon Fernandes, Suresh Wangjam, Udanta Singh as well as substitute Ashique Kuruniyan dictating terms relentlessly. In the defensive third, there were noticeable improvements too as the Bangladeshis hardly had a decent scoring opportunity to speak of. Subhasish Bose, Sandesh Jhingan and Chinglensana Singh were just too good on the night.

However, Manvir Singh has now gone three matches without scoring. Having missed a few opportunities in the previous two matches, his confidence can’t exactly be sky high but India need him to return to his best quickly to have a better chance against their south-central Asian opponents.   

Last time, India and Afghanistan went head-to-head in November 2019 – in what was their first matchup in Group E of the joint qualifiers -- the encounter ended in a 1-1 draw thanks to a second-half injury-time goal from Seiminlen Doungel at Tajikistan’s Central Republican Stadium. The Indians would want a better result than that this time for sure. Chhetri recently spoke of how their performance against Afghanistan was one of the low points of their campaign. The message is quite simple: Stimac’s men want to make amends on Tuesday.

In good news for the Indian camp, defender Rahul Bheke returns from his suspension and is available for selection. He had missed the Bangladesh tie after receiving a red card against Qatar in the 17th minute of the game after which the Blue Tigers had no option but to focus on defending as Felix Sanchez’s men turned up the heat on them. It will be interesting to see if Stimac will be tempted to make changes to his backline with the return of Bheke.

For Afghanistan the equation is simple: they will have to beat India to finish third in the group behind Qatar and Oman. Clearly, they will have a lot of motivation going into the game and Stimac’s men will have to be wary of them, any complacency can be the undoing of the Blue Tigers, make no mistake. Last time Doungel came to their rescue but they will do well to remember that history doesn’t always repeat itself.

India’s squad:

GOALKEEPERS: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Amrinder Singh, Dheeraj Singh

DEFENDERS: Pritam Kotal, Rahul Bheke, Narender Gahlot, Chinglensana Singh, Sandesh Jhingan, Adil Khan, Akash Mishra, Subhasish Bose

MIDFIELDERS: Udanta Singh, Brandon Fernandes, Liston Colaco, Rowllin Borges, Glan Martins, Anirudh Thapa, Pronay Halder, Suresh Wangjam, Lalengmawia, Sahal Abdul Samad, Mohammed Yasir, Lallianzuala Chhangte, Bipin Singh, Ashique Kuruniyan

FORWARDS: Ishan Pandita, Sunil Chhetri, Manvir Singh.

Broadcast schedule:

Kick-off time: 07:30 pm IST

Live telecast: Star Sports Network

Streaming: Disney+ Hotstar and JioTV

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