FIFA World Cup 2026 AFC Qualifiers: India lose to Afghanistan at home despite Sunil Chhetri’s strike

Chhetri, playing his 150th international match for India, scored the first goal of the match, after which the visiting team scored two late goals to win 2–1.

India suffered a 2-1 defeat to Afghanistan in the FIFA World Cup 2026 AFC Qualifiers at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in Guwahati on Tuesday.

FIFA World Cup 2026

Two goals in the second half helped world number 158 Afghanistan stage a comeback and win the match 2-1 against 117th ranked Indian men’s football team.

All eyes were on Indian talisman Sunil Chhetri who was making his 150th international appearance on the night.

The Indian football icon marked the occasion by scoring a goal for India in the 38th minute, but Afghanistan made a spectacular comeback in the second half thanks to goals from Rahmat Akbari (70′) and Sharif Muhammad (88′).

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It was India who started the game on the front foot. Igor Stimac’s side had a chance to take the lead as early as the third minute when Chhetri’s left-footed effort was saved by the opposition goalkeeper, while Manvir Singh’s strike on the rebound flew over the frame of the goal.

The breakthrough for the hosts came in the 38th minute when Manvir’s cross from the right flank, which was meant for Sunil Chhetri, hit Afghan football captain Zohaib Amiri and the referee immediately awarded a penalty.

Chhetri stepped up to take the spot-kick and despite the opposition goalkeeper diving rightwards, the power in the shot was enough to rattle the net and send cheers into the home crowd in Guwahati.

The Indian striker’s 94th international goal also meant that the Indian men’s football team got on the scoresheet for the first time since November last year.

Shortly after half-time, Liston Colaco had another chance to increase India’s lead, but it was kept out by the Afghan defenders in time. India were guilty of missing another chance just three minutes after the half-time restart as Brandon Fernandes’ lobbed pass allowed Manvir to get into the final third, but he failed to get the better of Afghan keeper Owais Azizi.

As the second half progressed, the Afghanistan football team gradually started making a comeback in the contest. Ashley Westwood pressed her team’s intentions with several aggressive substitutions.

The change paid off and the Afghans equalized in the 70th minute. Rahmat Akbari’s shot from outside the box went between the legs of Rahul Bheke and the deflection was too high for Gurpreet Singh Sandhu.

The equalizing goal shocked the Indian players, who were guilty of ball watching. If Gurpreet had not made a strong save after six minutes, the host team would have found itself trailing. However, ironically, it was Gurpreet who was guilty of fouling Siyar Saadat in the box and the referee immediately pointed to the spot.

With just two minutes left from the scheduled time, Afghanistan football team took the lead through Sharif Muhammad’s effortless penalty.

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The goal spoiled the mood in Guwahati as India ran out of ideas in the remaining five minutes. The 2-1 defeat has put India’s qualification into Group A in a tough spot. Although India is second in the group with four points from the same number of matches, it is ahead of Afghanistan on goal difference.

Kuwait, who are fourth with three points, have a game in hand. Qatar are the runaway leaders in Group A with three wins from three matches.

The Indian football team will play the final two matches of its second-round FIFA World Cup 2026 qualifying campaign against Kuwait and Qatar in June.

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