2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifier: Super-sub Doungel saves India blushes
Indian football team’s mental fortitude was on display yet again as Seiminlin Doungel’s stoppage time goal helped the side earn a point in their 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifier against Afghanistan in Tajikistan on Thursday.
It was déjà vu for the Indians, who needed a late goal from Adil Khan against Bangladesh in their previous outing to salvage a point.
The result does little to improve India's chances of progressing from Group D with a difficult trip to Oman upcoming.
The Indian football team dominated possession in the opening 10 minutes but couldn’t play through the Afghan midfield as Anoush Dastgir’s men remained disciplined in their shape.
As the game wore out, the Afghans kept the ball under their spell and fancied an opening down the right flank, but Indian goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu got his body behind the ball before Omran Haydari could get a touch on it.
The hosts continued to target India’s right-back Mandar Rao Dessai who brought down Adam Najem and gave away a free-kick in a dangerous position. Faisal Shayesteh tried to catch Sandhu off guard with a shot at the near post, but Indian skipper Sunil Chhetri was in position to head it away to safety.
The opportunity fell to India around the midway mark of the half, as Sahal Abdul Samad managed to pinch the ball off an Afghan defender which fell kindly into Ashique Kuruniyan. But the forward’s curler at the near post flew just above the crossbar as the chance went begging.
Thereafter, Afghanistan dominated the remainder of the half. Shayasteh’s shot across the goal from outside the box needed a sharp save from Sandhu to keep the scores level.
But the Indian keeper couldn’t repeat his heroics when Zelfy Nazary found himself at the end of a cutback from the right flank and smashed it into the back of the net to give Afghanistan the lead right at the stroke of half-time.
After 10 uneventful minutes in the second half, India upped the ante as they searched for an equaliser. Chhetri came close with a header in the 57th minute but should have scored with another one moments later when Brandon Fernandes’ delivery from the left found him unmarked at the back post. But the Indian skipper failed to head the ball into an open net, cushioning his effort over the crossbar.
With the Afghanistan defence dropping deeper and deeper, India found it difficult to play their way through and resorted to testing the Afghan ’keeper from distance.
Meanwhile, Najem came close to doubling Afghanistan’s lead as his low shot was saved by Sandhu before he smashed his follow-up into the side-netting.
With the game in stoppage time, Fernandes whipped in an out-swinging corner and found his club-mate and substitute Doungel, who headed the ball into the back of the net and levelled the score at 1-1.
Doungel found himself on the end of another chance in the dying moments of the contest but his shot whisked past the post just before the final whistle.
Whilst India's resilience will have pleased coach Igor Stimac, a third draw in four World Cup qualifying matches to date all but rules them out of advancing to Qatar 2022.
Now attention turns to a testing tie against Oman in Muscat on Tuesday, where India will really have to conjure something unexpected in order to revive their hopes.