After six minutes of frenzy, Sunil Chhetri and Sahel Abdul Samad turned champions as India beat Afghanistan 2-1 in the AFC Asian Cup qualifiers at Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Kirangan Stadium in Kolkata on Saturday.
From the monotony of the passes in the midfield, where the match seemed certain to achieve a goalless draw, a moment of magic from Chhetri, and his 83rd place for the country, and an inspiring run from Ashik Kurnyan led to Sahal who hit the ball in the back. From the net changed to finish the game.
The match got off to a frantic start as either team was careful not to allow the opponent to settle with the ball in the middle of the field. The high pressure with the word go started to affect the players soon.
Jaxon Singh, who was one of the changes from the previous game, sent a nice ball to the left in the sixth minute to fire Manveer Singh. The left striker slipped back to lose his mark and then avoided another opponent with relative ease but was brought down, which the referee deemed fair. Afghanistan got the break but Ahmad Imran Haidari illegally shot Sandesh Jinjan to end the attack.
Summary of the Asian Cup qualifiers, Afghanistan and India
By the 10th minute mark, Liston Colaco was tackled three times with the referee finally slipping away. He went up and took the free kick near the 30-meter mark but his effort went off the bar harmlessly.
Four minutes later, Ashik Koronian, who was the other new face in the starting line-up, was fired back down the left by Liston but a low cross into the box was stolen from Sunil Chhetri’s feet.
In the 22nd minute, Ashik tried to face several players near the left of the midfield but lost possession. He tried to stop Farshad Noor’s counterattack, by dragging him to the ground, which the Afghans did not underestimate and criticized. A quarrel ensued between the two teams, as referee Farshad showed the yellow color for his reaction. The intensity of the match was such that Harun Amiri found himself with a torn shirt that had to be replaced.
Roshan, also his best player was the interference and got a good shot from a tight angle but his effort saved a corner kick.
India was the dominant party and confidence increased as the Afghan players appeared on their hips.
Liston got the ball back on the edge of the left wing and cut in using his strength and technique but was pulled back. He immediately turned around to claim a free kick, which the referee made after some deliberation. Chhetri took over but his initial effort was blocked and followed up as Anwar’s shot was also directed.
From a corner kick, Afghanistan were in for a break, but a good final challenge from Jingan made the danger averted only to descend the central defender holding his hamstrings. Stimac looked anxious but his captain at the back woke up again in no time as the first half continued.
Shortly after the break, Manvir smoothed a cross into the far corner which Chhetri tried to grab but his effort bounced back painfully wide.
Ahmed Imran Haidari timed his jump despite being free in the penalty area with India’s momentary defensive attack.
Ashik tried his luck from a distance in the 69th minute, but his effort went too far. Then, just three minutes later, Manvir sent a delicious cross down the back post, but Chhetri missed it. From the corner, Anwar’s efforts flew a little. The Afghans slipped into an attack of their own, which was nicely saved by Gurpreet and kicked into relative safety.
In the 78th minute, Brandon missed the easiest chance of the night as he got the ball at his feet from a powerful kick from Ashek fired by the midfielder.
In the 83rd minute, Akash Mishra stole the ball in his team’s half and headed towards the Afghanistan defense to be blocked but Ashik recovered it and ran again. He was dropped into a dangerous area, as the referee blew his whistle.
Chhetri hoisted the nation’s weight on his shoulders and patted it softly into the net in the 85th minute as the crowd burst into chants of flattery.
The fans were stunned in silence minutes later when Zubair Amiri climbed high and headed in the goalkeeper’s goal at the 88th minute mark.
Sahel Abdul Samad, who had featured in the Chhetri match moments before, sent the crowd crazy with a superb shot that the goalkeeper missed in the 91st minute to keep India’s continental dream alive.
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