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Afghans rally to stun Blue Tigers in Chhetri’s 150th int’l match

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Guwahati, March 26: Lower-ranked Afghanistan shocked India 2-1 as the home team suffered one of its most embarrassing defeat in recent years despite talisman Sunil Chhetri’s 94th international goal in his 150th match, in the 2026 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers here on Tuesday.
In his landmark game, Chhetri did what was expected of him and found the back of the net from the spot in the 37th minute after Haroon Amiri handled the ball inside the box in India’s home leg match in the second round of the joint qualifiers for the World Cup and 2027 AFC Asian Cup.
Attacking on the counter with three strikers upfront, Afghanistan equalized as Rahmat Akbari restored parity in the 71st minute after he shot from outside the box and the ball went through the legs of Rahul Bheke after a deflection to make it 1-1.
Disaster struck the Indians when a charging Gurpreet Singh was shown a yellow card and Sharif Mukhammad converted the resultant penalty (88’) to give his team a 2-1 lead with just two minutes left in regulation time.
Afghanistan goalkeeper Ovays Azizi guessed it right but the 39-year-old Chhetri packed enough power in his shot to beat the visiting custodian, much to the delight of the crowd that thronged the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in anticipation of a fine performance form their much-loved footballer.
After a brief phase of relentless end-to-end attacks, Chhetri’s strike separated the two teams at the half time and India held on to the lead until Rahmat Akbari equalised in the 71st minute before Mukhammad’s later strike, which would eventually go on to dash Indian hopes as the visitors earned three points from the match.
Long before that, Liston Colaco came close to doubling India’s lead. But he failed to control the ball as the Afghans managed to retrieve it from him.
Right at the start of the match, Manvir Singh missed an easy chance to put India ahead but his shot off a rebound, after a Chhetri shot rattled the woodwork, flew over the net.
India coach Igor Stimac made three substitutions and brought Anirudh Thapa, Naorem Mahesh and Lallianzuala Chhangte in place of Brandon Fernandes, Liston Colaco and Chhetri.
But, these changes did little to extend India’s dominance and instead, the visitors found the equalizer. The worse was in store for India as the visitors put another one past a hapless Sandhu to break Indian hearts.
India and Afghanistan drew the first leg 0-0 in Abha, Saudi Arabia on March 22. (PTI)

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