Seminlen header save India blushes at Dushanbe

DUSHANBE, TAJIKISTAN: Super-sub Seminlen Doungel’s stoppage time goal cancel out Zelfagar Nazary’s opener as Afghanistan were held to a 1-1 draw by India in their FIFA World Cup 2022 and AFC Asian Cup 2023 Joint-Qualification encounter on Thursday at the Central Republican Stadium in Dushanbe, Tajikistan.

On the balance of play, Afghanistan will feel they should have sneaked it as they dominated proceedings and created better goal-scoring chances. They will surely be kicking themselves for not burying numerous goal-scoring opportunities they created, especially in the later stages of the encounter. But in the end, the result was perhaps a fair reflection of the action on show. Both teams had periods of dominance and numerous scoring opportunities.

Despite some quick and accurate passes from both sets of players, neither side was able to establish dominance over the midfield during the early stages which made for an end-to-end, open encounter.

Afghanistan were pressing high without the ball, trying to put pressure on the India defence which looked organised and comfortable to dictate the pace of the match and limit the Afghanistan’s options to counterattacks.

Playing out from the back, the hosts were looking to connect with target-man Omran Haydari but Adil Khan, at the centre of India defence, had little trouble defusing the searching long balls and crosses aimed at the forward.

By midway through the first period India were piling on the pressure. Sunil Chhetri led India’s offensive efforts but like his counterpart, failed to be as lethal as they needed to be in front of goal.

Inevitably, failing to convert their chances came back to haunt India as Afghanistan took the lead at the stroke of half-time when David Najem cut back into the box as Nazary ran into the box and smashed it past Gurpreet Singh Sandhu after Rahul Bheke missed the ball completely.

Afghanistan’s spirits were lifted by the goal which they brought with them when they returned from the break.

But they weren’t the only ones, India came out of the sheds fired up to bring themselves back into contention, controlling the ball, winning set pieces and keeping Afghanistan pinned into their own back third.

The Blue Tigers were all over Afghanistan and asking more and more questions. Goalkeeper Ovays Azizi produced a glorious save to keep India  at bay when he denied Brandon Fernandez in a one-on-one inside the box, diving full length to stop the ball from going in.

However, Afghanistan weren’t without chances of their own, but between some solid defending and the safe hands of Gurpreet, the attackers were unable to get an edge on their opponent.

India continued to have the majority of possession and chances in front of goal with Chhetri combining well with Brandon to create opportunities that were often unlucky not to score from.

As the clock counted down India continued to put pressure on Afghanistan and the pressure eventually told as Doungel scored the all-important goal in stoppage time when he headed home a Brandon Fernandez corner to the delight of the away fans.

With this result, India now have three points from four matches in Group E — this being their third draw in a row.

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