The Indian football team will have their task cut out on Thursday, November 14, when they travel to the Central Republican Stadium in Dushanbe, Tajikistan to take on Afghanistan in their fourth 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifier match.
While on paper, the Blue Tigers seem favourites with a superior ranking and several big players, they will know that this Afghanistan side will be no pushover. Anoush Dastgir’s side are currently in third position in Group E, one place ahead of India and will look to consolidate that position come Thursday.
Coping without Jhingan
Over the past few years, centre back Sandesh Jhingan has been India’s rock at the back. He has been a regular starter for the side and was solid in India’s incredible result against Asian Champions Qatar earlier this year. Despite being only 26, Jhingan is one of the more experienced players of the Indian camp and his natural leadership traits has helped the Indian backline play well as a unit.
The centre back however is still recuperating from a knee injury and will not feature in the tie against Afghanistan. His absence was felt in the previous game against Bangladesh where the opposition forwards found some joy as India’s backline struggled to keep their shape.
Like in the last game, Anas Edathodika is the most obvious candidate to replace Jhingan and play alongside Adil Khan in central defence. Stimac though, could be tempted to try youngsters Narender Gahlot or Sarthak Golui, the latter in particular has been exceptional so far in the Indian Super League.
Strikers time to shine
India have so far scored two goals in their three World Cup qualifier games, with one of those coming from central defender Adil Khan. Heading into the game against Afghanistan, Stimac will hope for the likes of Ashique Kuruniyan, Brandon Fernandes and Manvir Singh to come to the fray and ease the pressure off captain Sunil Chhetri.
The latter two have made good starts to their ISL seasons, with Fernandes nabbing three assists while Singh scored a vital last-minute equaliser for his side FC Goa against NorthEast United FC a few weeks back.
Afghanistan have shown a tendency to crumble when the opposition scores early, as seen in their losses against Oman and Qatar. If India’s forward line can exploit that weakness come Thursday, they could well be on course to their first win of the group.
Afghanistan are ranked 149th in the world, 43 places below India. However, their recent form has been slightly better as they managed that slender win against Bangladesh earlier in the competition.
Midfielder Farshad Noor has scored Afghanistan’s only goal thus far in the FIFA World Cup qualifiers and the Afghani coach will hope that forwards Jabar Sharza and Khaibar Amani can find their scoring boots when the Blue Tigers come calling.
This Afghanistan side can take some lessons from Bangladesh’s draw against India; and could line up with a compact midfield to thwart the Indian attackers. Bangladesh played very shrewdly on the counter when they faced India last month, and Afghanistan could employ a similar approach.
Where to watch?
The Afghanistan vs India match will be broadcast on the Star Sports network as well as Hotstar from 7:30pm on November 14.