The Indian football team will take on Afghanistan in their forthcoming match in the FIFA World Cup and AFC Asian Cup Joint Qualification Round 2 at the Damac Stadium in Abha, Saudi Arabia, in an early outing on March 22.

Since the campaign at the AFC Asian Cup back in January 2024, the Blue Tigers will be eyeing to etch their names into history books by qualifying for the third round of the World Cup qualifiers, which is their main objective. Stimac’s men are currently sitting in the third spot in the Group A points table, just behind Kuwait with three points from two matches.

The Sunil Chhetri-led Indian team will face Ashley Westwood’s men twice within a week, first away on Thursday at midnight and then at home on Tuesday. However, bringing out positive outcomes from the upcoming two matches could be beneficial for the Blue Tigers ahead of their next outings against Kuwait and higher-ranked Qatar.

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Before the important match against the neighbouring country, Sunil Chhetri has opened up to, sharing his experience of playing against Afghanistan and his memorable moments against the same opponent over the years.

Chhetri has featured in eight games against the Afghanistan football team, in which he netted four goals. After India’s first competitive outing against the Lions of Khorasan at the 1951 Asian Games in Delhi, both countries had locked horns against each other several times over the years, be it in continental tournaments or FIFA World Cup Qualifiers. Notably, the Blue Tigers have played the second-highest number of games against Afghanistan in the last 15 years.

"Afghanistan have progressively improved from when we met them for the first time (at the 2008 AFC Challenge Cup in Hyderabad)," Chhetri opined.

"The games were comfortable, but slowly and steadily they progressed. And because of being in the same region, rivalry was also generated. Hence, the games became quite close. Both India and Afghanistan have improved in the last decade or so. Having players who play outside has really helped them," he continued.

These two neighbouring countries squared off against each other three times at the SAFF Championship final between 2011 and 2016, of which India won twice in 2011 and 2015; while Afghanistan emerged victorious in 2013 by defeating the Blue Tigers for the only time to clinch their maiden silverware back then.

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Significantly, Stimac’s men saw off the Afghanistan national team, beating them by a 2-1 scoreline in the Asian Cup Qualifiers back in 2022. Chhetri’s precise free-kick and Sahal Abdul Samad’s late winner propelled the Blue Tigers to secure a victory in a cagey affair in Kolkata. Sharing his views on their recent face-offs against Afghanistan, Chhetri said,

"The rivalry has been feisty. Whether it was the final in Kerala (SAFF Championship 2015) or the Asian Cup Qualifier in Kolkata."

"I would pick the latter (as my favourite moment). The only thing we remember from that match is Sahal's goal because of the way it turned out. None of us, probably the whole country, would remember anything else but the added-time goal. Udanta keeping the ball in, giving it to Ashique, Ashique holding the ball and laying it to Sahal, and Sahal finishing it. That probably will stay with all of us for a long, long time because the importance of the goal was huge at that moment as it gave us qualification for the Asian Cup,” he concluded.