India left stunned by Afghanistan in FIFA WC Qualifiers

Afg Ind
India is now winless in six games

The streak of disappointing results continued for the Indian football team, as on Tuesday, they lost 1-2 against a second-string Afghanistan side at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium, here in Guwahati, in their fourth match of the joint 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifiers and 2027 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers. 

Sunil Chhetri was India’s lone scorer on his 150th appearance for the national team, while for Afghanistan, Rahmat Akbari and Sharif Mukhammad were on the scoresheet.

India head coach Igor Stimac made three changes to his team after a poor show in a 0-0 away draw against the same team. Akash Mishra made way for Subhasish Bose in the left-back position and Liston Colaco and Brandon Fernandes were preferred ahead of Lallianzuala Chhangte and Vikram Partap Singh in attack.

On the other hand, despite not having as many as 18 first-team players available for a variety of reasons, Afghanistan gave a great fight in the last encounter. Quite understandably, the Lions of Khorasan’s head coach Ashley Westwood decided to roll the same starting XI.

Despite the defeat, India did have a better start to the game and could have taken the lead in the 3rd minute. Fernandes received a ball from Colaco and played it for Chhetri, who struck the woodwork. The rebound fell for Manvir Singh, but he could not keep his attempt on target.

Afghanistan had their first chance in the 7th minute. Mosawer Ahadi launched a cross which was dealt with by India’s backline, but from the resultant delivery, Zohib Islam Amiri found himself unmarked and kept his header on target. Although, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu was up to the task under the sticks for India.

Stimac’s men created a few chances in the next few minutes, right-back Nikhil Poojary had an attempt in the 10th minute, while Bose tried his luck from a Jeakson Singh cross seven minutes later but none of those attempts troubled the Afghan custodian, Ovays Azizi.

The game ebbed and flowed as Afghanistan then had an opportunity in the 21st minute. Taufee Skandari darted down the left flank before finding Akbari, whose shot was blocked by Anwar Ali. The rebound fell to Ahadi but his attempt was wayward.

The biggest moment of the first chance came in the 36th minute when Manvir put on the afterburners down the right flank and launched a precise cross that would have found Chhetri completely through on goal, had it not been for a handball by Amiri. However, the Indian skipper made no mistake in converting the chance from the spot, giving his team an important lead.

India had the chance of doubling their advantage in the first half itself In the 44th minute, a counter-attack saw Fernandes finding Colaco with an accurate pass, but the Mohun Bagan Super Giant winger just could not sort his feet out.

The initial exchanges of the second half did not produce any clear-cut chances, although it was clear that whatever Westwood had said in the lemon break had an effect on the players. 

Jabar Sharza went for glory from a free-kick in the 57th minute, but could not keep his shot on target. Then just six minutes later, Omid Popalzay too fancied his luck, but he could not trouble Gurpreet either.

The continuous press eventually paid off as Afghanistan finally found the equalizer in the 70th minute. A long ball from goalkeeper Azizi was flicked into the path of Ahadi, who beat Poojari for sheer pace before striking a powerful left-footed shot. His attempt was blocked by Bose, but the rebound fell for Akbari whose attempt was equally venomous. Although Rahul Bheke was stationed in the way of the ball, it somehow went through his legs to restore parity in the match.

That goal helped Afghanistan take complete control of the match and nearly scored their second in the 76th minute. Having already scored once, Akbari turned the provider this time as his pass found Skandari, but the B36 Torshavn midfielder’s effort was saved by Gurpreet.

India had a chance to get their lead back in the 83rd minute when substitute Chhangte’s cross found Manvir in a great position but the experienced attacker could not keep his header on target. Three minutes later, Apuia played a good pass for Bose but Manvir’s Mohun Bagan Super Giant teammate was as wasteful as him.

Sharif Mukhammad scored Afghanistan’s second goal in Guwahati

The missed chances came back to haunt the Blue Tigers badly as they conceded a penalty in the 88th minute. A long ball from the right flank caught the Indian backline napping as Fareed Sadat found himself through on goal. However, the PSKC Cimahi striker was clattered into by Gurpreet, giving Westwood’s team a chance to seal the victory. From the spot, Mukhammad calmly sent Gurpreet the wrong way to seal all three points.

Despite the defeat, India remains second in the Group A standings with 4 points in 4 matches. Stimac’s men will now take on Kuwait on June 6. Meanwhile, Afghanistan is in the third position with 4 points in 4 games and will face Qatar on the same date.