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regular-article-logo Wednesday, 29 May 2024

India eye victory against Afghanistan for entry to third round of Fifa World Cup Qualifiers

With midfield general Jeakson and centre-back Anwar back in the line-up after lengthy injury layoffs, because of which India suffered in the recent past, the Blue Tigers will fancy their chances against the lower-ranked opponents

Our Bureau And PTI Abha Published 21.03.24, 12:06 PM
Sunil Chhetri during a training session ahead of Thursday’s World Cup Qualifier against Afghanistan in Abha, Saudi Arabia.

Sunil Chhetri during a training session ahead of Thursday’s World Cup Qualifier against Afghanistan in Abha, Saudi Arabia. AIFF

Bolstered by the return of Jeakson Singh and Anwar Ali, the Indian football team will renew its quest for a maiden entry into the third round of Fifa World Cup Qualifiers when it faces a weakened Afghanistan here on Thursday.

With midfield general Jeakson and centre-back Anwar back in the line-up after lengthy injury layoffs, because of which India suffered in the recent past, the Blue Tigers will fancy their chances against the lower-ranked opponents.

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With three points and one win from two matches, India currently occupy the second place in the Group A pecking order.

Qatar lead the standings with six points from two wins, while Kuwait are second with one win. Having lost both their games so far, Afghanistan are placed last.

India’s away win against Kuwait has put Igor Stimac’s team in a strong position to progress further in the qualification cycle, something the 117-ranked side has never achieved.

Victories in their upcoming outings (away and home) against the 158-ranked Afghanistan will help India acquire nine points and with Qatar expected to win their next two matches against Kuwait, the Blue Tigers have a real chance of jumping to second place in the standings.

India defeated Kuwait (1-0) in Kuwait City in their opening match of the qualifiers, before losing to Qatar (0-3) in Bhubaneswar.

India and Afghanistan have met regularly and the regional rivalry has not run its course even after the latter left SAFF in 2016.

The face-off continued in the World Cup Qualifiers, Asian Cup Qualifiers and other continental and invitational tournaments, with India having their nose ahead on most occasions. Nevertheless, the Afghans have always been a difficult opposition to overcome, fighting till the final whistle.

Nobody in this Indian squad can tell about Afghanistan better than the evergreen Sunil Chhetri, who is going strong at 39 and will be spearheading the visiting attack alongside Manvir Singh, who found the net in the team’s win against Kuwait.

While Chhetri remains his biggest player, Stimac should be no less thrilled with the return of Jeakson and Anwar. However, midfielder Sahal Abdul Samad will miss the match after piicking up a hamstring injury during training.

As the second round of qualifiers started, problems between the Afghanistan players and the football federation started growing. As many as 18 players boycotted the qualifiers against Kuwait and Qatar, leaving the side with few first-team players for the outing against Mongolia, whom the Lions of Khorasan defeated to progress to the second round.

With inputs from PTI

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