India will be in search of their first win in the second round of the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers when they take on Afghanistan in a Group E contest.

India will be looking to register their first victory of the AFC second round of qualifiers for the 2022 FIFA World Cup when they lock horns with Afghanistan at the Central Republican Stadium in Dushanbe, Tajikistan on Thursday.

The Indian football team began the second round of qualifiers with a narrow 1-2 defeat to Oman and followed it up with draws against 2022 World Cup hosts Qatar (0-0) and neighbours Bangladesh (1-1). With just two points from three matches, the Blue Tigers are fourth in Group E standings and need a victory to keep their hopes of making it to the next round of qualification alive.

Afghanistan, ranked 149th in the world, are a point and a place above India in the group, having beaten Bangladesh 1-0 in September. However, they have suffered heavy defeats in their other two fixtures, losing 6-0 to Qatar in their opener and 3-0 to Oman last month. They will be keen on cutting down the gap to second-placed Oman with a win against Igor Stimac’s men this Thursday.

Ahead of this exciting match-up set to be played in Dushanbe, which has been chosen as the home venue by Afghanistan, we at The Hard Tackle take a closer look at both the teams.

Team News & Tactics

Afghanistan

Afghanistan head coach Anoush Dastgir prefers to set his team up in a 4-2-3-1 formation and is likely to stick with a similar setup against the Indians on Thursday. The hosts might take a leaf out of Bangladesh’s book and look to stifle the Blue Tigers in the middle of the park like last month.

27-year-old Ovays Azizi ought to start in goal for Afghanistan while the heart of the defence will be manned by 19-year-old Najim Haidary and Zohib Islam Amiri, who will be a familiar face for the Indians, having spent most of the last decade playing professional football in India. Hassan Amin should be the left-back, while captain Farshad Noor might once again line up at right-back.

Noor Husin and Zelfy Nazary could form the two-man midfield pivot for the hosts with Adam Najem taking up the lone attacking midfield slot against Igor Stimac’s side on Thursday. Norlla Amiri and Faysal Shayesteh will be the men deployed on the wings on either side of Najem, with Mustafa Azadzoy providing an option from the bench.

Zubayr Amiri and Omran Haydary will compete for the lone striker’s spot but manager Dastgir might opt for the former on Thursday owing to his experience.

Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Azizi; Noor, Haidary, Amiri, Amin; Nazary, Husin; Norlla Amiri, Najem, Shayesteh; Zubayr Amiri

India

Igor Stimac has some concerns with his defence as Sandesh Jhingan is a long-term absentee due to injury for Team India, while fellow defender Anas Edathodika has had to withdraw from the squad for personal reasons. Key midfielder Rowlin Borges is also ruled out with an injury. Nishu Kumar has earned a call-up owing to his impressive start in the ongoing season of ISL.

There is no looking past Gurpreet Singh Sandhu in goal for the Blue Tigers, while Rahul Bheke and Mandar Rao Desai ought to be the full-backs on the right and left sides respectively. Adil Khan, who scored the late equalizer against Bangladesh, should start alongside Subhasish Bose at the heart of the Indian defence.

The returning Pronay Halder is likely to get the nod as the holding midfielder against Afghanistan which should allow fellow midfielders Anirudh Thapa and Sahal Abdul Samad more freedom to get forward and impact the game in the final third.

The Bengaluru FC duo of Udanta Singh and Ashique Kuruniyan will be the wide men for Igor Stimac’s side against Afghanistan, with captain and all-time leading goalscorer Sunil Chettri leading the line.

Probable Lineup (4-1-4-1): Sandhu; Bheke, Bose, Khan, Desai; Halder; Singh, Samad, Thapa, Kuruniyan; Chettri

Key Stats

  • India enjoy a strong head-to-head record against Afghanistan, having beaten them on six of the eight occasions the two teams have clashed in the past. The Blue Tigers have lost just once, with the other game ending in a draw.
  • The last time these two sides met was in the 2013 SAFF Finals when Afghanistan beat India 2-0.
  • Afghanistan have the worst defensive record in Group E of the Qualifying campaign, having let in nine goals in three matches. They also have the joint-worst attacking record along with Bangladesh, having managed to score just once till date.
  • Since their 1-0 win over Thailand in June earlier this year, India have failed to win a single of their six matches (D3 L3).
  • Afghanistan’s 1-0 win against Bangladesh in September is their only victory in six matches in 2019.

Player to Watch

Sunil Chhetri

India's fortunes hinge largely on the output of Sunil Chhetri. (Photo by Manjunath Kiran/AFP/Getty Images)

India’s fortunes hinge largely on the output of Sunil Chhetri. (Photo by Manjunath Kiran/AFP/Getty Images)

As is the case almost each time the Indian football team takes the field, all eyes will invariably be glued on star striker and captain Sunil Chhetri. The 35-year-old is the Blue Tigers’ all-time leading goalscorer, having netted 72 goals from 113 international appearances till date.

Currently the second-highest active goalscorer in international football behind Portugal captain Cristiano Ronaldo, Chhetri, with his immense experience and goalscoring acumen, will be key for India’s chances of picking up their first win of the qualifying campaign against Afghanistan on Thursday.

Prediction

Afghanistan 1-1 India

The playing conditions will be a big challenge for India given the cold weather and the artificial turf being used in Dushanbe. Afghanistan won their only game of the Qualifiers at this stadium, which should fill them with confidence heading into Thursday’s encounter.

It is likely to be a scrappy affair with goalscoring chances coming at a premium for both the sides. Hence, we at The Hard Tackle are predicting this one to end in a 1-1 stalemate – India’s third draw of the second round of qualifying.

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