India and Afghanistan drew 1-1 in their last match of Group E of the FIFA World Cup cum Asian Cup qualifiers on Tuesday. The result means that India finish in third, with seven points from eight matches, and book a place in the next round of qualifiers for the 2023 Asian Cup. They were already out of contention for a place in the next round of 2022 World Cup qualifiers.
India took the lead via a 75th-minute own goal courtesy of a blunder from Afghanistan goalkeeper Ovays Azizi. The Afghans, though, levelled soon after through a wonder goal from teenage sensation Hossein Zamani.
Igor Stimac made two changes to the side that started against Bangladesh in the previous game, with Bipin Singh and Udanta Singh making way for Rahul Bheke and Ashique Kuruniyan. India had a chance in the first minute, with Manvir Singh squeezing out a shot from a tight angle, forcing a save from Azizi.That set the tone for the early periods as India dominated possession. They won multiple corners, Sandesh Jhingan coming closest to scoring with a powerful header from a Brandon Fernandes corner, but the effort was cleared off the line by Afghan defender Haroon Amiri.
Sunil Chhetri was in the thick of the action too - forcing a save off Azizi from inside the box, before being thwarted by Masih Saighani after more neat play from Brandon.
The water break at the half hour mark proved to be a turning point for Afghanistan. They were much more forceful with the ball post that, earning freekicks in dangerous areas that took last ditch defending from the Indians to clear. Amir Sharifi then did well to create space in the Indian box, but his shot wasn't powerful enough to trouble Gurpreet Singh Sandhu.
The half ended the same way it began, Manvir racing into the box, only to be thwarted by the Afghan keeper.
India had another decent spell of possession early in the second half, but the best chance of the period fell to Afghanistan. Saighani played a long ball to Popalzay, who chested it down and volleyed it from outside the area, but Gurpreet made a comfortable save. Later in the half, Sunil Chhetri curled a 25-yard freekick narrowly over, before being substituted for Liston Colaco. Before that, Brandon had been replaced by Lalengmawia Ralte (Apuia).
The goal came about in tragi-comic circumstances. Ashique hurled a wayward cross into the box, only for Azizi to fumble while collecting it and bounce it into his own net. Afghanistan soon went on the attack, looking for the equaliser, and found it through their teenage sensation Hossein Zamani, who came on in the second half. Receiving a cut-back from Noor Husin, Zamani curled a right-footer into the Indian goal, off the far post. Despite flurries from both sides toward the end, the match ended in a 1-1 draw.