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regular-article-logo Friday, 24 May 2024

2026 Fifa World Cup Qualifiers: Afghans snatch victory as India fumble

In his landmark game, Chhetri did what was expected of him and found the back of the net from the spot in the 37th minute after Haroon Amiri handled the ball inside the box in India’s home leg match in the second round of the joint qualifiers for the World Cup and 2027 AFC Asian Cup

PTI Guwahati Published 27.03.24, 11:12 AM
Afghanistan players celebrate after scoring a goal against India during the Fifa World Cup 2026 and AFC Asian Cup 2027 preliminary joint qualification match in Guwahati on Tuesday.

Afghanistan players celebrate after scoring a goal against India during the Fifa World Cup 2026 and AFC Asian Cup 2027 preliminary joint qualification match in Guwahati on Tuesday. PTI

Lower-ranked Afghanistan shocked India 2-1 as the home team suffered one of its most embarrassing defeats in recent years despite Sunil Chhetri’s 94th international goal in his 150th match, in the 2026 Fifa World Cup Qualifiers here on Tuesday.

In his landmark game, Chhetri did what was expected of him and found the back of the net from the spot in the 37th minute after Haroon Amiri handled the ball inside the box in India’s home leg match in the second round of the joint qualifiers for the World Cup and 2027 AFC Asian Cup.

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Attacking on the counter with three strikers upfront, Afghanistan, ranked 158, equalised as Rahmat Akbari restored parity in the 71st minute after he shot from outside the box and the ball went through the legs of Rahul Bheke to make it 1-1.

Sunil Chhetri and IM Vijayan (right) during the India captain's felicitation in Guwahati on Tuesday.

Sunil Chhetri and IM Vijayan (right) during the India captain's felicitation in Guwahati on Tuesday. PTI

Disaster struck the Indians, who are 117th in the Fifa rankings, when a charging Gurpreet Singh was shown a yellow card and Sharif Mukhammad converted the resultant penalty (88’) to give his team a 2-1 lead with just two minutes left in regulation time.

Earlier, Afghanistan goalkeeper Ovays Azizi guessed it right but the 39-year-old Chhetri packed enough power in his shot to beat the visiting custodian, much to the delight of the crowd that thronged the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in anticipation of a fine performance form their much-loved footballer.

After a brief phase of relentless end-to-end attacks, Chhetri’s strike separated the two teams at half time and India held on to the lead until Akbari equalised.

Right at the start of the match, Manvir Singh had missed an easy chance to put India ahead but his shot off a rebound, after a Chhetri shot rattled the woodwork, flew over the net.

India and Afghanistan drew the first leg 0-0 in Abha, Saudi Arabia, on March 22.

Chhetri felicitation

Sunil Chhetri was felicitated by the All India Football Federation (AIFF) for appearing in his 150th international game here on Tuesday.

AIFF president Kalyan Chaubey and AIFF’s technical committee chairperson IM Vijayan were among the dignitaries who presented mementos to the India captain before the start of the match.

Chhetri marked the occasion with a goal from the spot in the 37th minute. He remains third on the list of goal-scorers among active players.

Chhetri, 39, first donned the senior national jersey on June 12, 2005, in a friendly match against Pakistan in Quetta. He was India’s scorer in the 1-1 draw. Since then, he has made 149 appearances for the national team, netting a record 93 goals.

A prolific goal-getter, Chhetri holds the unique record of scoring at least one goal in his first, 25th, 50th, 75th, 100th and 125th match for the Blue Tigers.

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