Afghanistan crunches FIFA World Cup qualifier, against INDIA

Chhetri, playing in his 150th international match for India, scored the opening goal of the match only to see the visitors score two late goals to win 2-1.

ndia suffered a demoralising 2-1 loss to Afghanistan in the FIFA World Cup 2026 AFC Qualifiers at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in Guwahati on Tuesday.

Two second-half goals allowed world No. 158 Afghanistan to complete a comeback and win the contest 2-1 against the 117th-ranked Indian men’s football team.

All eyes were on Indian talisman Sunil Chhetri who was making his 150th international appearance on the night.

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The Indian football icon marked the occasion by opening the scoring for India in the 38th minute but Afghanistan completed a stunning second-half comeback thanks to goals from Rahmat Akbari (70’) and Sharif Muhammad (88’).

FIFA World Cup 2026 AFC Qualifiers | Indian Football Team | Afghanistan
India suffer shock defeat against Afghanistan | Indian Football Team (X)

 

It was India who started the game on the front foot. Igor Stimac’s side had the chance to take a lead as early as the third minute when Chhetri’s left foot effort was saved by the opposition goalkeeper while Manvir Singh’s strike on the rebound flew over the frame of the goal.

The breakthrough arrived for the hosts in the 38th minute when Manvir’s cross from the right flank, meant for Sunil Chhetri, hit Afghan football captain Zohaib Amiri’s hand and the referee quickly awarded a penalty.

Chhetri stepped up to take the spot-kick and despite the opposition keeper diving the right way, the power in the shot was enough to rattle the net and trigger jubilation in the home crowd in Guwahati.

The Indian striker’s 94th international goal also meant the Indian men’s football team registered on the scoresheet for the first time since November last year.

At the stroke of half-time, Liston Colaco had another chance to extend India’s lead but was dispossessed by Afghan defenders just in time. India were guilty of missing another chance just three minutes after the half-time restart as Brandon Fernandes’ lobbed pass allowed Manvir to get into the final third but he failed to get the better of Afghan keeper Ovays Azizi.

FIFA World Cup 2026 AFC Qualifiers | Sunil Chhetri
Chhetri, playing in his 150th international match for India, scored the opening goal | Indian Football team (X)

 

The Afghanistan football team slowly started clawing its way back into the contest as the second half progressed. Ashley Westwood pressed his side’s intentions with a number of attacking substitutions.

The changes paid off as the Afghans drew parity in the 70th minute. Rahmat Akbari’s shot from outside the box went through the legs of Rahul Bheke and the deflection was too much for Gurpreet Singh Sandhu to handle.

The equaliser rattled Indian players, who were guilty of ball-watching. Had it not been for a strong save from Gurpreet just six minutes later, the hosts would have found themselves trailing. However, ironically it was Gurpreet who was guilty of bringing down Siar Sadat in the box and the referee immediately pointed to the spot.

With just two minutes left of regulation time, the Afghanistan football team stole the lead after Sharif Muhammad’s effortless penalty.

The goal sucked the air out of Guwahati as India looked short of ideas for the remainder of the five minutes of added time. The 2-1 loss has put India’s qualification in a tricky spot in Group A. Although India are second in the group with four points from as many games, they are over Afghanistan based on goal difference.

FIFA World Cup 2026 AFC Qualifiers | Indian Football team
Indian Football team during the FIFA World Cup 2026 AFC Qualifiers | IFT (X)

 

India walked into this match expecting all three points, but hobble out with none. Afghanistan overcame a 0-1 deficit with two late goals to win 2-1 in Guwahati as India wilted under the pressure of the match.

India looked well on top for most of the first half, and saw a great chance spurned early on. Liston Colaco and Brandon Fernandes (two of the three changes from the reverse fixture, the third being Subhasish Bose) combined to feed Sunil Chhetri inside the Afghan box. The skipper, playing his 150th match, took a touch before lashing a shot off the post. The ball rebounded out to Manvir Singh, who skied it into row Z from seven yards out.

Going into halftime, Igor Stimac would have been content with his charges. What unfolded in the second half, though, is another story.

That’s how the match ended as India struggled to launch a cohesive attack in the final moments. This leaves India in second, but Afghanistan have now joined them with four points. They are only behind on GD. The result adds even more pressure on Stimac ahead of their crunch qualifier against Kuwait in Kolkata in June.

The Indian football team will play the final two matches of its second round FIFA World Cup 2026 qualifying campaign against Kuwait and Qatar in June.

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