FIFA World Cup Qualifiers: Why losing to Afghanistan is a new low for Indian football?

With four Afghanistan players without a club to play for, the Afghans have struggled to field a squad for the World Cup qualifiers due to disputes between players and management.

FIFA World Cup Qualifiers


When he scored in the 37th minute, Sunil Chhetri had no expression on his face as he walked back towards his half. When India missed the most pedestrian pass a few minutes later, his face turned into that familiar mixture of disgusted anger – which only his Indian teammates feel

. When he was substituted in the 67th minute after scoring a penalty in his 150th game for the Indian national football team, the look of concern and urgency was evident on his face on the bench. And when thirty minutes later, the referee blew the final whistle, the country’s most recognizable footballer buried his face between his hands, unable to face the reality of what Indian football really is.

It was the 2013 SAFF Cup final where Afghanistan last defeated India in an international football match. On Tuesday, in another World Cup qualifier second round match in Guwahati, Afghanistan defeated them once again, this time to the tune of two late goals.

The four Afghanistan players do not currently have a club to play for (according to their coach Ashley Westwood) and were not in the middle of the football season, as was every Indian player on the pitch. The Afghans struggled to field a squad for these qualifiers due to disputes between players and management. India were able to take only one point out of a possible six in these two matches against opponents they should have easily swept aside in the two legs.

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How different does a year look in Indian football? Last year India was on the coast. Head coach Igor Stimac had his camps, he had the players he wanted, and he had a plethora of teams to base his preparations on. This resulted in wins against Lebanon, Kuwait and the Kyrgyz Republic and three international tournaments within the country.

A year later, Indian football is back to its familiar state of disrepair. It’s only March and the national team has already played six times – conceding an incredible eleven goals in the process and conceding a total of zero goals from open play. Stimac’s response after this latest failure:

“I’m still confident of achieving my goal (WCQ R3) in June, I’m just not happy with what we saw tonight. Replacements are made for some effects and there were no effects today. I’m sorry for what happened but I hope to be much better in June.


Still defiant in the face of normality.

Even on Tuesday, scoring a goal from open play was a ridiculous dream. And that’s saying something, considering Chhetri had a chance just a few minutes into the game. A weighted ball into the box, and the Indian captain had nothing but the keeper to beat. Actually, when the ball came, there were three Indian players in the box and apart from the goalkeeper, there was one Afghan player.

Chhetri mistimed the ball, which hit the post, and then Manvir Singh, who was originally a striker and has now become a nomad on the football pitch, depending on which coach he plays for, He skied the ball into the stands, even though he had only the keeper. Beat. A shocking early indication of how things were about to unfold.

After that moment, India stopped creating any chances. The usual ten minutes of thunder followed. Lacking control in the midfield, players like left-back Subhashish Bose lob the ball up the field and show minimal effort in stopping players when the same ball comes back a few seconds later with the Afghans crowding it.

In fact, the left side of India was its own mess. Bost’s mistakes were compounded by the play of Liston Colaco on the wing. Often he chose to face Afghan players alone even though he did not have the ability to do so. Instead of passing into the space created by his teammates, Colaco chose to dribble and essentially get the ball pushed by the stronger Afghans and continued to repeat the same unsuccessful move.

If India’s play on the wing was disastrous, the real bad was their attack. Often ridiculed by Stimac for being poor even before arriving on Indian shores, the front three of Colaco, Chhetri and Manvir were a story of their own. Chhetri is usually accompanied by Mahesh Naorem and Lalianjuala Changte.

But despite Stimac promising his best attacking three, he provided three players who have rarely shown how to function the way an attacking trio needs to. It was once again a case of questionable decisions all around, from the players on the pitch to the man who placed them there. In fact, for the first time in eleven matches, India got a penalty due to an avoidable handball by Afghan defender Haroon Amiri and apart from Chhetri’s strike, the home team got nothing.

Afghanistan was no better. But in the last twenty minutes of the game, their level went up while India’s energy ran out. Afghanistan’s first goal in the 70th minute was a result of India not having enough bodies in front of their goal. He eventually blocked two shots but Rahmat Akbari’s third shot from the edge of the box went between Rahul Bheke’s legs and into the goal.

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Affected once again by that familiar inertia when required to act, India’s search for a goal saw wild passes that never found their target, impossibly stupid decisions that came from panic and not poise, And an inability to respond to a challenge – one that they had just faced in the match. So it was no surprise when India’s reliable senior goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu was fouled in the box in the 88th minute. As Sharif Muhammad finished the game, the Afghans accepted the gift with smiles on their faces.

For their final two matches of the World Cup qualifiers, India will next face Kuwait at home on June 6 and then Qatar on June 11 in Doha.

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