The Blue Tigers face the Lions of Khorasan to ensure spot in the final round of the AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers.
India finally won a match after an 11-game winless streak, defeating Bangladesh 2-0 in a World Cup Qualifier in Doha. This was the Blue Tigers’ first victory in the ongoing qualifiers. In the final match of this round, the Blue Tigers will face Afghanistan. Shepherded by Sunil Chhetri, Igor Stimac’s boys will look to end the campaign with eight points, garnered by two victories and two draws.
Afghanistan had proven to be a tricky opponent for India in the first match of these qualifiers. In the previous match between the two, the game finished as a stalemate as midfielder Zelfy Nazary scored in added-time in the first half for the Afghans, while Seiminlen Doungel earned a point for India.
Let’s find out how the Blue Tigers have been preparing, stakes to the game, probable lineups and more in the following preview.
About the teams
Sunil Chhetri made the headlines, however, the match against Bangladesh also saw encouraging performances from a number of players. Brandon Fernandes was at his creative best from deep midfield, Ashique Kuruniyan displayed a strong second half outing and Chinglesana Singh was solid at the back. India now have one victory and three draws in seven matches, helping them to third spot on the table, a point above Afghanistan. The Blue Tigers need to win the encounter or at least earn a draw to ensure they remain third on the table.
India need to start on the front foot, something they didn’t do the last time these two teams met. A lackluster performance saw India wait until the 93rd minute to earn a point, from a corner that was delivered by Fernandes. Chhetri’s second half header was brilliantly tipped over the bar by Afghan goalkeeper Ovays Azizi. The Blue Tigers will, however, start the reverse fixture with a lot more confidence and attacking impetus, after a dominant performance against neighbors Bangladesh in the previous encounter.
Afghanistan played against Oman on June 11 in their previous game in a 2-1 defeat. Omid Popalzay scored the only goal for the Afghans in the match.
The Lions of Khorasan drew their reverse fixture against India and one win and a draw each against Bangladesh have earned them five points so far. However, Afghanistan will need to ensure they defend better, having conceded 14 goals while scoring just four.
Ranked 149 in the FIFA rankings, Afghanistan have the ability to punch above their weight and they showed that in Dushanbe.
If Afghanistan win the tie, they will sit third in the group table with eight points, two above India. It must be noted that they have the ability to cause an upset which was evident when these two sides met in 2019.
Croatian manager Igor Stimac has made many tactical switches to the national team since his appointment in early 2019, but finally seems to know his first XI in a 3-5-2 setup. A three-at-the-back formation has worked well for India in the last two games, with Sandesh Jhingan at the heart of it.
In Subhasish Bose and Chinglensana, Stimac has two players who are comfortable in moving the ball forward. Given his strong performance in the second half, Ashique Kuruniyan can be expected to start on the left wing. While India would look to play offensively, not conceding will also be on their priority list. Thus, the hard-working pair of Glan Martins and Suresh Singh Wangjam can be expected to start once again.
Fernandes, India’s No. 10 and the prime playmaker, will continue to pull the strings from midfield. However, Manvir Singh can start in the right wing-back role instead of Udanta Singh, while Ishan Pandita or Lallianzuala Chhangte might get a look-in in the second striker position.
Chhetri will continue to captain and spearhead the team’s attack. ISL champion Amrinder Singh might have to wait for his return to international football, with Gurpreet Singh Sandhu in prime form. It will take something special for Afghanistan to score past the Indian custodian.
Alternatively, India can go with four at the back, with Akash Mishra and Pritam Kotal in full-back positions. Stimac can go with three upfront, with Chhetri in the middle and Ashique Kuruniyan and Udanta Singh on flanks. Brandon Fernandes can play a more advanced role with Glan Martins and Suresh Wangjam at the heart of the midfield. This will give India more attacking options and they can move the ball freely against a tough Afghanistan side.
Afghanistan regularly play the 4-3-3 system, so there’s little doubt over if Anoush Dastgir, their 31-year-old manager, would change the setup. The team relies mostly on defensive resoluteness and the defenders are seldom found out of position. Ovays Azizi can be expected to keep his role under the bar, with Sharif Mukhammad and Zohib Islam Amiri manning the heart of the defence. Milad Intezar and David Najem will take the full-back roles on the left and right side respectively.
Moving on to the midfield, Noor Husin and captain Farshad Noor form the backbone of Afghan’s midfield, with a little bit of creativity and dynamism coming in from No. 10 Faysal Shayesteh. Husin is expected to operate deep and Shayesteh or Noor can be expected to man-mark Brandon Fernandes.
Shayesteh is capable of shooting from outside the box and Suresh and Martins will need to keep an eye on him. Omran Haydary or Zubayr Amiri can be expected to start in the right forward role. Amiri has a definite skill-set that could exploit the space left behind by India’s wing back and Subhasish Bose will need to be extra cautious.
In the frontline, Amredin Sharifi will continue to lead the attack, helped by Omid Popalzay, another creative outlet in Afghani ranks, from the left.
Gurpreet (GK); Chinglesana, Jhingan, Bose; Udanta, Glan, Suresh, Brandon, Ashique; Manvir, Chhetri
Azizi (GK); Najem, Sharif, Amiri, Intezar; Shayesteh, Husin, Noor; Zubayr, Sharifi, Popalzay
Players to Watch
Afghanistan will sit deep with a 4+2 defensive system. To unlock that, India need their in-form creative playmaker to be at his best again. Brandon has the experience of breaking down such defences and has proved that time and again. After impressing against Bangladesh, he will need to further stamp his class with another solid outing against Afghanistan.
Powerful and capable of beating players, Amiri has played for reserve sides of Eintracht Frankfurt earlier in his career. A constant threat from the right side, India must take him seriously or they could be at the receiving end.
What to Expect
Given what is at stake for India, Igor Stimac will field his strongest XI yet again. The commanding performance against Bangladesh holds the Blue Tigers in good stead. Indian fans can expect their team to have three more points at the final whistle. Afghanistan will need to do exceedingly well if they are to cause an upset.
The match between India and Afghanistan will be held at the Jassim bin Hamad Stadium in Doha. Kickoff will be at 7:30 pm IST on June 15.
Fans in India can watch the game live on Star Sports 2/2 HD, Star Sports 1 Hindi/1 HD Hindi, Star Sports 3, Star Sports 1 Tamil, 1 Telugu, 1 Kannada and 1 Bangla. It was also be available on their streaming service Hotstar and Jio TV.