India left it late to salvage a point in their 2022 Fifa World Cup qualifier against Afghanistan in Dushanbe, Tajikistan on Thursday but the Blue Tigers played out their third straight draw in the campaign.
The win-less streak after four matches sees their hopes of progressing to the next round hang by a thread.
Seiminlen Doungel headed home a Brandon Fernandes corner in the second minute of stoppage time to save India the blushes after Afghanistan had taken the lead through Zelfagar Nazary in first-half added time.
Igor Stimac’s men laboured through the first-half, moving the ball slowly as Afghanistan threatened largely on set-plays. But just when it seemed that India would go into the interval unscathed, the hosts pounced on some sloppy defending from the away side to get their noses in front.
Afghanistan targetted India’s left flank make-shift full-back Mandar Rao Dessai operated and got little protection from Ashique Kuruniyan all through the first half before getting their reward at the end.
Stimac replaced Desai with forward Farukh Choudhary, dropping Ashique to left-back. After a slow start to the second half, India picked up tempo around the hour mark.
In the 58th minute, Sunil Chhetri was inches away from putting finishing touches to a Choudhary cross which found its way to right-back Pritam Kotal whose return cross found the Indian skipper. Chhetri towered over the defender to get a header in but it was palmed away by Afghan goalkeeper Avays Azizi.
With India adopting a much direct approach in the second half, Stimac brought on Manvir Singh for Sahal Abdul Samad. Howvever, India’s threat came from elsewhere as Udanta Singh’s looping header needed saving from Azizi in the 67th minute.
Afghanistan made a mess of the resulting corner that bounced all the way to Chhetri at the far post who was unattended around the six-yard area. However, the Indian captain uncharacteristically blazed over as a golden chance to equalise went begging for the Blue Tigers.
Gurpreet Singh Sandhu kept India in the game with a save from Najeb ten minutes later before substitute Manvir sen a header wide in the 84th minute.
Afghanistan tried to break India’s momentum by wasting time but that eventually came back to bite them as the visitors got their equaliser in the additional time to force a share of spoils.
With the draw, India remained in the fourth spot with three points, while Afghanistan stayed third taking their tally to four points.
India next face Oman in another away match in five days time on Tuesday.