Still searching for their first win of the 2022 Fifa World Cup qualifiers so far, Indian football team’s fourth attempt to do so will be made trickier by low temperatures in Dushanbe, Tajikistan which is Afghanistan’s makeshift home for their campaign due to security concerns in their homeland.
The artificial turf at the Central Republican Stadium is expected to add to their difficulty as would the mercurial nature of the Afghanistan football team over the past three years.
Indian head coach Igor Stimac is under no illusion about the task facing his side in the hostile Tajikistan capital.
“It’s very cold and mercury level drops to closer to sub-zero,” the Croatian said. “Moreover, the match is scheduled on an artificial turf which our players are not used to. Afghanistan have chosen the venue to make others’ life difficult and we have an uphill task in front of us to overcome it.”
India, who are fourth in the five-team group standings, come into this match on the back of a disappointing draw against Bangladesh in Kolkata. The Blue Tigers cannot afford any more slip-ups if they are to harbour realistic hopes of challenging for the top two positions in the group.
Stimac understands the situation his team is in and wants them to go the extra mile to get the result in their favour.
“It will not come to us, rather we need to go and snatch it. It’s always about us and our performance to achieve something,” the 52-year-old said.
India can expect the Afghans to cause similar problems as Bangladesh. The 149-ranked side is likely to sit deep and hit India on the counter. Stimac would need to devise a way for his team to create more chances than they managed against Bangladesh, and also be more clinical at the same time.
Anoush Dastgir’s men don’t have too many problems with injuries and suspensions ahead of the game against India and would be expected to line-up in their version of the 4-5-1 formation which the coach prefers.
Zubayr Amiri, who scored against the Blue Tigers in the 2-1 defeat in the Saff Cup final in 2015, is expected to lead the line ahead of a midfield five of Shayeste, N Amiri, skipper Farshad Noor, Najem and Husin.
Haroon Amiri has spent a lot of time in India playing for a variety of clubs and is likely to start at left-back with Ataee, Haidary and Amin completing the back four.
The biggest threat for India is likely to come from captain Noor, who has scored Afghanistan’s only goal in the qualifiers so far in the 1-0 win over Bangladesh.
Stimac is without the injured Rowllin Borges for the game but has Pronay Halder at his disposal to play in a more defensive role in the middle of the park. The ATK midfielder’s availability is likely to coax the Croatian into adopting a 4-3-3 formation with Anirudh Thapa and Sahal Abdul Samad partnering Halder in central midfield.
India are set to be without Anas Edathodika who returned home after the passing of his mother. Youngster Sarthak Golui, who has had an impressive start to the Indian Super League season, is likely to be his replacement alongside Adil Khan.
Another option is to put Rahul Bheke in central defence with Pritam Kotal occupying the right-back role. Mandar Rao Dessai is expected to retain his place at left-back.
In attack, Sunil Chhetri will play in the hole behind Manvir Singh with Ashqiue Kuruniyan and Udanta Singh flanking him.
Once again, Chhetri is expected to carry the bulk of goalscoring burden for India and will be a key figure for Stimac if he is to see his side pick up their first win in the qualifiers.
Head to Head
India’s senior team have a fine record against Afghanistan. They have faced each other eight times with India winning on six occasions. Afghanistan have beaten The Blue Tigers on just one occasion in their history in the 2013 Saff Cup final.
In their last meeting at the 2015 Saff Cup final, India prevailed 2-1 after extra time in a fiercely contested match.
India wins: 6
Afghanistan win: 1