India come out on top against Afghanistan in the AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers

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On Saturday, the Indian men's football team defeated Afghanistan 2-1 in Kolkata in the AFC Asian Cup 2023 Qualifiers third round. Sunil Chhetri scored a fantastic free-kick, while Sahal Abdul Samad held his cool to score the game-winner in the extra time; Afghanistan's goal came from Zubayr Amiri.

With this win, India ranked 106th in the FIFA rankings and remained in second place in Group D with six points and a +3 goal difference. Afghanistan ranks third in the points table, rated 150th. Hong Kong is in top place after a 3-0 victory over Cambodia earlier in the day. India made two adjustments to their starting lineup for the encounter against Afghanistan after defeating Cambodia 2-0 in the first match.

In lieu of Anirudh Thapa, Indian coach Igor Stimac brought in offensive midfielder Ashique Kuruniyan and defender Jeakson Singh in place of Brandon Fernandes. Both India and Afghanistan adjusted to the game quickly, although India showed more daring in the first 15 minutes, winning five corners In the second half, Ashique Kuruniyan and Akash Mishra had their tails up as India exploited gaps in the Afghan defense. Sunil Chhetri and Manveer Singh, though, could not put Afghan goalkeeper Faisal Hamidi to the test.

Following 25 minutes of play, Afghanistan began to gain control of the ball. The Indian backline, captained by Sandesh Jhnigan, proved up to the challenge. Both India and Afghanistan enjoyed about equal ball possession at the end of the first half. On the other hand, India had four shots on goal to Afghanistan's none and nine corners to Afghanistan's three.

In the following 45 minutes, what had been a bruising encounter in the first half became an end-to-end battle. As India's goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu was completely swamped by a flurry of assaults, Afghanistan's strikers roared back to life. In several instances, India appeared to be on the verge of scoring. Chhetri created a moment of magic in the 85th minute with a curling free-kick to the right of the goal after numerous opportunities went begging.

While India breathed a sigh of relief with the goal, Sandesh Jhingan's sloppy clearing in the 88th minute allowed Afghanistan a critical corner. Unmarked Afghanistan midfielder Zubayr Amiri scored the equalizer with a header. India, eager for a victory, kept pressing for the winner with barely two minutes of normal time remaining. In the first minute of added time, Sahal Abdul Samad took advantage of Ashique Kuruniyan's assist and sent it past the Afghan goalie to give India the victory.

On Tuesday, India will meet table-topper Hong Kong. Each team will play each other once, with the final group champion and the five best runner-ups from each group qualifying for the Asian Cup 2023. India has participated in the AFC Asian Cup four times: in 1964, 1984, 2011, and 2019. The team's highest finish in the continental tournament was a second-place finish in 1964 when they made their debut.

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