Home Sports 2026 FIFA World Cup | Afghanistan deals a blow on India’s qualification hopes

2026 FIFA World Cup | Afghanistan deals a blow on India’s qualification hopes

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2026 FIFA World Cup | Afghanistan deals a blow on India’s qualification hopes

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Afghanistan’s Sharif Mukhammad, second left, celebrates after scoring the winner during the 2026 FIFA World Cup AFC qualifier football match between India and Afghanistan at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in Guwahati on March 26, 2024.
| Photo Credit: AFP

India’s bid to qualify for the third round of the 2026 World Cup qualifiers suffered a big blow as the visiting Afghanistan inflicted a 2-1 defeat in a second round Group A match at the Indira Gandhi Stadium here on Tuesday.

Sunil Chheri’s 94th international goal from a 36th minute penalty in his 150th appearance for the country gave India the leverage in the opening session. But this advantage was lost in the second half, when the Afghans regrouped well to find two goals and turn the tables on India.

Chhetri could have put India ahead in the third minute, but his attempt on a half turn came off the post and Manvir Singh could not keep his effort on target despite getting the rebound close to the Afghanistan goal.

India showed the energy and the intent initially to pin the Afghans back, but that did not last long as the visitor replied with sharp counter-attacks and created two quick openings that Indian goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu had to save.

In the seventh minute, Sandhu palmed over a header from the Afghanistan captain Haroon Amiri before blocking an attempt from forward Omid Popalzay.



Indian captain Sunil Chhetri is held back the Afghanistan defence during a set-piece in the World Cup qualifying match in Guwahati on Tuesday, 26 March 2024.

Indian captain Sunil Chhetri is held back the Afghanistan defence during a set-piece in the World Cup qualifying match in Guwahati on Tuesday, 26 March 2024.
| Photo Credit:
RITU RAJ KONWAR

India struggled to find a solution to Afghanistan’s physical play. Ashley Westwood, the current Afghanistan coach, has fair experience of coaching in a number of Indian clubs and seemed to use that experience well in guiding his players.

The change of ends saw Afghanistan arriving with a greater resolve as India tried to preserve the lead with a defensive approach. This did not help much as Afghanistan tried to open up gaps in the India defence with a high-press. It finally found the equaliser in the 70th minute when Rahmat Akbari’s powerful drive found its way in. Afghanistan kept up the pressure and earned a penalty in the 88th minute that was converted by Sharif Mukhammad.

India remains on four points from four matches, needing to win its next outing against Kuwait, which it will host on June 6.

The result: India 1 (Chhetri 36-pen) lost to Afghanistan 2 (Rahmat Akbari 70, Sharif Mukhammad 88-pen).

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