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Updated March 22nd, 2024 at 13:42 IST

India, Afghanistan play out goalless draw in FIFA World Cup Qualifiers

It was end-to-end contest in the first half on Thursday night with India coming close to scoring through India's Manvir Singh on two occasions and Afghanistan too had their share of chances.

India vs Afghanistan
India vs Afghanistan | Image: AIFF
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India played out a goalless draw against Afghanistan after both sides failed to turn their opportunities into goals in a Group A fixture of the 2026 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers here.

It was end-to-end contest in the first half on Thursday night with India coming close to scoring through Manvir Singh on two occasions and the hosts too had their share of chances.

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With this result, India climbed to the second spot in Group A with four points from three matches, followed by Kuwait, who are on three points from as many games.

The equation was quite clear for both teams. A win would do either side a world of good.

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India have provisionally taken the second spot in Group A, three points ahead of Kuwait, who lost to Qatar 0-3 earlier in the night. Afghanistan, following a draw and to losses are fourth in the group.

A feisty midfield battle ensued in the opening exchanges as lunging tackles were frequently on display at the Damac Stadium. While Afghanistan looked to use their pace and physical built to assert dominance, India were intent on playing a passing game.

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Vikram Partap Singh, who had earned his senior national team debut in January, made the starting XI for the first time, and was a constant thorn in the flesh of the Afghanistan defence.

The forward kept drifting between the centre and the wing, often switching with Manvir, which caused much confusion in the Afghanistan ranks.

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With India and Afghanistan resorting to open football, the first half (45+3) saw a wave of attacking moves but the strikers were not able to come alive in the final third, leaving coaches Igor Stimac and Ashley Westwood a bit frustrated as they shouted instructions from the touchline.

India were on the offensive from the word go and caused some anxious moments in the Afghanistan defence. Had Manvir not spurned a great chance in the 17th minute, the visitors would have taken an early lead in their away leg of the second round of the 2026 World Cup and 2027 AFC Asian Cup preliminary joint qualification match.

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After a few early exchanges, the Indian midfield slowly began to clamp their control. Lallianzuala Chhangte, prancing down the left, found an unmarked Manvir with a low cross. But the latter, who had drifted inside from the right flank, sent his shot wide.

Despite India's control over the game, Afghanistan kept finding chances, especially on the counter. Mosawer Ahadi was released down the right flank, as he cut in and unleashed a left-footed curler that India custodian Gurpreet Singh Sandhu grabbed with both hands.

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Manvir had more than one opportunity to score in the first half itself. A corner from Chhangte, and a cross whipped in by fullback Nikhil Poojary were great chances for the India forward to score, but both went begging, as the first half came to a close.

After Manvir, it was Vikram Pratap's turn in the second half to miss a couple of chances.

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While on the first occasion, the ball was just a yard too far, the 22-year-old managed to wriggle past his marker on the second opportunity, only to run into a cul-de-sac, where the angle was too narrow for him to take a crack at the goal.

His last opportunity came just minutes ahead of the hour mark, when he managed to get into the six-yard box unmarked, and connected a header onto a cross by Akash Mishra. But the effort went inches wide.

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Vikram's night, however, soon came to an end. A mistimed tackle earned him a booking, and head coach Stimac took the opportunity to replace him with Brandon Fernandes.

Afghanistan kept resorting to counter-attacks and had arguably their best scoring opportunity in the 62nd minute when Rahmat Akbari's low cross found Omid Popalzay in the Indian box, but Rahul Bheke intervened just in time to deny the Afghanistan midfielder.

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Stimac made a final throw of the dice with a quarter of an hour left on the clock, bringing on Liston Colaco, Mahesh Naorem, and Deepak Tangri. Colaco found a lot of joy down the right, frequently sending in crosses, but the Afghanistan defence managed to deal with them.

Subhasish Bose, who had earlier replaced Mishra, was added to the list of Indian players who managed to get a free header inside the Afghanistan box, as he nodded a Colaco corner inches wide of the target.

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As the match went into injury time, Colaco created one last opportunity, sprinting down the right flank. His low cross missed captain Sunil Chhetri, but landed at Mahesh's feet, as the latter tried to feint his marker to create shooting space but he was soon dispossessed.

India and Afghanistan will now shift to Guwahati, where they will face off again on March 26, for their second encounter in the Asian Qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup.

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Published March 22nd, 2024 at 13:42 IST

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