FIFA World Cup Qualifier: Indian football team miss chances, play out goalless draw against Afghanistan

Abha [Saudi Arabia]: Indian football team played out a goalless draw against Afghanistan at the Damac Stadium in Abha, Saudi Arabia, in their third FIFA World Cup 2026 and AFC Asian Cup 2027 Preliminary Joint Qualification Round 2 match on Friday.

With this result, India climbed to second in Group A with four points from three matches, followed by Kuwait.

The equation was quite clear for both teams. A win would do either team a world of good. For India, it would mean provisionally taking the second spot in Group A, three points ahead of Kuwait, who had lost 0-3 against Qatar earlier in the night.

Three points for Afghanistan would have meant that they would draw level with both Kuwait and India, making the race for the second spot in the group a three-way battle.
A feisty midfield battle ensued in the opening exchanges, lunging tackles frequently on display for the vociferous crowd at the Damac Stadium. While Afghanistan looked to use their pace and physicality to assert dominance, India were intent on playing a passing game.

Vikram Partap Singh, who had earned his senior national team debut in January, made the starting XI for the first time in his career, and was a constant thorn in the Afghanistan defence. The forward kept drifting between the centre and the wing, often switching with Manvir Singh, which caused much confusion in the Afghanistan ranks.

After a few early exchanges, the Indian midfield slowly began to clamp their control in the middle. Lallianzuala Chhangte, prancing down the left, found an unmarked Manvir with a low cross. The latter, who had drifted inside from the right flank, sent his shot wide.

Despite India’s control over the game, Afghanistan kept finding their chances, especially on the counter. Mosawer Ahadi was released down the right flank, as he cut in and unleashed a left-footed curler that India custodian Gurpreet Singh Sandhu grabbed with both hands.

Manvir had more than one opportunity to score in the first half itself. A corner from Chhangte, and a cross whipped in by fullback Nikhil Poojary were great chances for the India forward to score, but both went begging, as the first half came to a close.

Manvir had chances to score in the first half but could not score, it was Vikram Pratap’s turn in the second to miss a few.
Twice, he was played in behind the Afghanistan defence. While on the first occasion, the ball was just a yard too far, the 22-year-old managed to wriggle past his marker in the second opportunity, only to run into a cul-de-sac with a very narrow angle for him to take a crack at goal. His last opportunity came just minutes ahead of the hour mark, when he managed to get into the six-yard box, unmarked, and connected a header onto a cross by Akash Mishra, but his effort went inches wide.

Vikram’s night, however, soon came to an end after a mistimed tackle earned him a booking, and head coach Igor Stimac took the opportunity to replace him with Brandon Fernandes.

Afghanistan kept resorting to the counter-attacks and had arguably their best scoring opportunity of the game in the 62nd minute when Rahmat Akbari’s low cross found Omid Popalzay in the Indian box, but Rahul Bheke intervened just in time to shrug the Afghanistan midfielder off the ball.

made a final throw of the dive with a quarter of an hour left on the clock, bringing on Liston Colaco, Mahesh Naorem, and Deepak Tangri. Colaco found a lot of joy down the right, frequently sending in crosses, but the Afghanistan defence managed to deal with them.

However, the India head coach tried to make some impact by bringing in Liston Colaco, Brandon Fernandes, and Naorem Mahesh Singh, but his men fell short of scoring the opener as the match ended with a 0-0 scoreline in Abha. With this point they moved up to the second spot in Group A with four points from three games.

The Blue Tigers will host the Lions of Khorasan in the reverse fixture at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in Guwahati on March 26.

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