India’s quest for a place in the third round of the Fifa World Cup 2026 and AFC Asian Cup 2027 Preliminary Joint Qualifiers suffered a serious jolt when they lost 1-2 to Afghanistan on Tuesday in Guwahati. The winners trailed 0-1 at half time.

Skipper Sunil Chhetri, playing his 150th international match, gave the hosts the lead off a penalty kick in the 38th minute in front of jam-packed stands at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium.

But India’s fortunes changed in the second half when Rahmat Akbari’s shot deflected off a defender to find its way past Gurpreet Singh Sandhu in the 70th minute for the equaliser, and then Sharif Mukhammad dealt the final blow by converting a penalty in the 88th minute.

The loss in this home tie left India with just four points from four matches in the four-team Round 2 group. While Qatar lead the group with nine points from three matches, Afghanistan, too, have four points from as many matches, but trail India due to an inferior goal difference.

India still have two games to play. While defeating Asian champions Qatar in the away match would be a difficult task, it may finally boil down to India’s home game against Kuwait on June 6.

India, who drew the away match against Afghanistan in a goalless tie in Saudi Arabia, desperately needed three points from the match on Tuesday to keep alive their hopes of a long and arduous journey to the third round.

But like it was in Abha, Saudi Arabia, the Indians did everything to stretch the rival defence time and again but fell short of converting them into goals. They did create a few chances, including a second-minute shot by Chhetri that hit the post before Manvir Singh blazed an attempt over the bar.

India took the lead in the 38th minute. Haroon Amiri, the captain and towering figure in the Afghanistan defence, handled the ball. Chhetri stepped in to slam the ball to the right of the goalkeeper Ovays Azizi, with a low but confident shot.

It was Chhetri’s 94th international goal and the first after a seven-match drought. He now holds the unique record of scoring at least one goal in his first, 25th, 50th, 75th, 100th, 125th and 150th international appearance. But in the end, this unique achievement took the back seat as India surrendered all the points on the pitch.