India held to a dull and disappointing draw by Afghanistan

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India was held to a 0-0 draw

In the third match of the joint 2026 FIFA World Cup AFC Qualifiers and 2027 AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers, India was held to a drab 0-0 draw by Afghanistan, at the Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz Sports City Stadium in Abha, Saudi Arabia.

India head coach Igor Stimac made wholesale changes to his team after a poor campaign in the AFC Asian Cup. Nikhil Poojary, Anwar Ali, Jeakson Singh, and Vikram Partap Singh were handed starts. Subhasish Bose, Sandesh Jhingan, Deepak Tangri, and Naorem Mahesh Singh, all of whom played in India’s last match against Syria, could not get starts, with Jhingan being injured.

Similarly, Afghanistan head coach Ashley Westwood was also forced to make plenty of changes due to many key players opting out of national team duty for a variety of reasons involving the football federation. The likes of Habibullah Askar, Taufee Skandari, and Rahmat Akbari, who usually might not have played in normal circumstances, hence got opportunities.

Though it was expected that India would dominate the game, it was Afghanistan who had the better start and they could have taken the lead in just the 11th minute. Left-back Akash Mishra lost possession in a dangerous area, giving the ball away to Skandari, who found Jabar Sharza but the Bronshoj midfielder launched a curling effort which narrowly missed the target.

It took India 25 minutes to have their first major chance of the match. Lallianzuala Chhangte drew a foul down the left flank and the subsequent free-kick found Rahul Bheke jumping the highest but the Mumbai City defender could not keep his header on target.

The Lions of Khorasan continued to penetrate the Indian box and had another chance right at the half-hour mark. Defender Mosawer Ahadi found himself in space down the right flank and decided to go for glory himself, but his attempt was aimed straight at Gurpreet Singh Sandhu under the sticks for India.

India’s next chance came in the 37th minute when a corner found Manvir Singh unmarked at the near post. The Mohun Bagan Super Giant attacker tried a cheeky flick into the goal but he could not find the target.

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The Afghans’ staunch defense thwarted all Indian attacks

There was another chance in the 40th minute. This time, a player in red lost possession in a dangerous area and Vikram was in the correct spot to pounce on the opportunity. He tried his luck from a distance but the shot went straight into the hands of Ovays Azizi.

This spell of possession saw Stimac’s team create one chance after another and the next opening came just a minute later. Poojary played a cross for Manvir from the right flank and the MBSG forward headed down the ball but neither skipper Sunil Chhetri nor Chhangte was aware of a potential tap-in goal.

The last chance of the first half came to Westwood’s team. Skandari drew a foul off Jeakson to award his team a free-kick, and from the spot, Sharza launched a venomous shot. However, Gurpreet was up to the task again.

The second half was more open than the first with both teams producing clear-cut openings. India was the first in this regard as their chance came in the 58th minute when Mishra launched a sublime cross down the left flank for Vikram. The Mumbai City attacker was totally unmarked inside the box but could not find the back of the net.

Four minutes later, it was Afghanistan’s turn to squander a glorious chance. Akbari found himself through on goal with only Gurpreet to beat, but instead of trying a shot himself, the Torpedo Kutaisi midfielder went for a cutback for a teammate and ended up wasting the chance. The 23-year-old had another chance in the 76th minute when a cross from the left flank found him making a late run into the box, but Akbari was wasteful once again.

The biggest chance of the match fell to India in the 79th minute. Substitute Brandon Fernandes launched a delightful cross into the box from a corner to find Subhasish completely unmarked inside the box with the simple task of glancing the ball into the net. Unfortunately for the Indian team, the Mariners’ captain ended up heading the ball wide.

The last two chances of the night fell to Westwood’s team. Omid Musawi attempted a long-ranger from a free-kick in the 88th minute while he had another attempt from the left flank six minutes later. But on both occasions, the Para Hills Knights striker left Gurpreet unperturbed.

With this draw, India remains in second place in the Group A standings with 4 points in 3 matches while Afghanistan is last with 1 point in 3 matches. The two teams will meet once again on Tuesday at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in Guwahati.