India will look for nothing less than a victory in difficult conditions when they face Afghanistan in their fourth joint 2022 FIFA World Cup and 2023 AFC Asian Cup qualifier match at the Central Republican Stadium in Tajikistan.
The Indian team has had an encouraging campaign so far, starting with a close 1-2 home defeat at much higher-ranked Oman, followed by a rememberable goalless draw against Asian champions Qatar in Doha.
Following the game against Qatar, the Blue Tigers faced a lot of expectations when they faced neighbours Bangladesh at the Salt Lake Stadium in the City of Joy. However, they failed to live up to the expectations as Bangladesh took a lesson out of India’s book by put up a strong defensive performance and picked a point.
After conceding against the run of play in the 42nd minute, the Blue Tigers needed a header from Adil Khan in the dying minutes to rescue a point. While a defeat would have been worse, the draw did no better as it put a massive dent in the hopes for India to qualify.
Cold and Unfamiliar Conditions
With already a difficult task on hand, Igor Štimac’s men will receive no respite from the weather Gods as they will play in freezing conditions and on artificial turf. Štimac completely comprehends the situation the team is in and does not want to let the opportunity to pass by. “It will not come to us, rather we need to go and snatch it. It’s always about us and our performance to achieve something,” the former Croatian National team manager said.
In the past five meetings against the 149th ranked Afghanistan, India has won three times while drawing once (SAFF Championship 2011) and losing one (SAFF Cup 2013). The Blue Tigers will look to either repeat their 4-0 win in SAFF Championship in 2011 or their most recent 2-1 victory in the 2015-16 SAFF Cup final, where skipper Sunil Chhetri scored the 102nd-minute winner.
Despite his error that cost India a goal against Bangladesh, Štimac will look upon to Gurpreet Singh Sandhu for a strong performance in goal. The Croatian manager will face a headache in defence with the absence of Sandesh Jhingan and Anas (had to return to India due to personal reasons). However, he will be able to call upon Adil Khan, Rahul Bheke and Mandar Rao Desai. Young Narender Gehlot could start in place of Anas.
In midfield, Raynier Fernandes looks the most likely replacement for the injured Rowlin Borges alongside a young dynamic Sahal Abdul Samad and Anirudh Thapa. The forward line could most likely consist of Bengaluru FC trio of Ashique Kuruniyan, Sunil Chhetri and Udanta Singh.
Apart from weather and turf troubles, India will also need to keep Afghani skipper Farshad Noor and their most capped player Haroon Amiri. 25-year-old Noor, who scored the winner against Bangladesh, is a graduate from the Dutch team PSV Eindhoven Academy and currently plays for Nea Salamis in the Cypriot top division. Amiri, on the other hand, is the most experienced in the Afghanistan squad with 48 international appearances under his belt.
The 32-year old midfielder is also familiar with what he will be facing due to his prolonged experience from playing in India since 2011. Amiri has represented Mumbai FC, Dempo SC, FC Goa, DSK Shivajians, Chennai City FC and Gokulam Kerala FC.
What Time and Where to Watch
The highly awaited match begins at 7.30 pm IST and will be broadcasted on Star Sports. The match can also be streamed live on Hotstar.