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India and Afghanistan played out a 1-1 draw in their last match of Group E of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and AFC Asian Cup China 2023 Joint Qualifier, at the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium in Doha, Qatar, on Tuesday.

A third-place finish in Group E means that India moves directly to the third round of qualifiers for the AFC Asian Cup China 2023. India has seven points from eight matches.

India took the lead via a 75th-minute own goal courtesy of Afghanistan goalkeeper Ovays Azizi, but the Afghans pulled back their equaliser minutes later, through their teenage sensation Hossein Zamani.

India head coach Igor Stimac made two changes to the side that started for the Blue Tigers against Bangladesh in the previous game, with Bipin Singh and Udanta Singh making way for Rahul Bheke and Ashique Kuruniyan.

The Blue Tigers got out off the blocks right from kick-off as Manvir Singh soared up the right flank, made his way into the Afghanistan box and pulled the trigger. However, his shot was parried out for a corner by Afghan goalkeeper Ovays Azizi. The resulting corner by Brandon was cleared, but it fell kindly to Glan Martins on the edge of the area, whose shot was eventually blocked.

Afghanistan also attempted to create their chances in the opening exchanges as David Ahmed Najem found some space on the right and whipped in a few crosses, but India custodian Gurpreet Singh Sandhu was alert to the danger and came out to collect.

India started to grow into the game soon enough and Manvir once again raced down the right and played it through to an overlapping Suresh Singh Wangjam, who earned a corner for the side. Sandesh Jhingan managed to get a firm header onto the Brandon corner but the effort was cleared off the line by Afghan defender Haroon Amiri.

As India began to settle down in the second half, the Blue Tigers started to play the ball out of the back. A little under 10 minutes into the second half, a chance was created out of a string of passes that started all the way from the keeper. Gurpreet Singh Sandhu found Suresh in the defensive half, as the latter played it to Bheke with his first touch. Under pressure, the fullback struck the ball down the line to put Manvir through on the right flank once again but the cross was stopped.

Minutes later, Gurpreet made a crucial save to keep the scores at 0-0. Saighani hooved a long ball to Popalzay, who chested it down and volleyed it from outside the area, but Gurpreet was up to the task, as he plucked the ball out of the air.

Amiri stood in India’s way once again on the hour mark, when he headed way a free-kick by Brandon, that was aimed at Manvir, who had shaken off his marker inside the box, and looked set for a free header.

India’s perseverance finally paid off in the 75th minute, when Ashique and Manvir worked some space on the left flank, as the former had the time and space to send in a measured cross towards Liston inside the box. Afghan keeper Azizi fumbled the ball while collecting it, and turned it into his own net.

India thought they had their second goal a few minutes later, when Ashique again weaved his way into the box and sent in a cross, for Liston, who turned it in. However, the referee had already blown his whistle, as he had adjudged Ashique to have carried the ball over the goalline. That was Ashique’s last action of the night, as he was replaced by Bipin Singh.

Afghanistan soon went on the attack, looking for the equaliser, and found it through their teenage sensation Hossein Zamani, who came on in the second half. Receiving a cut-back from Noor Husin, Zamani curled a right-footer into the Indian goal, off the far post.

Manvir had a chance late in the second half, when he got his head onto a ball whipped in from the left by Subhasish, but his header went over the crossbar. Both the sides had a few last exchanges in added time, but the clock soon ran down, as the match ended in a 1-1 draw. 

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