Sunil Chhetri and Sahal Abdul Samad become heroes after six minutes of madness India Defeated Afghanistan 2-1 in the AFC Asian Cup Qualifier at Vivekananda Yuva Bharati Kreerangan in Kolkata on Saturday.
From the dreary monotony of passing in midfield, as the game looked certain to a goalless draw, a moment of magic from Chhetri, his 83rd for the country, and a persuasive run from Ashiq Kuruniyan that caused Sahal to back the ball. Hitting the net changed the completion of the game.
The match started with a frantic start with neither team eager to let the opposition compromise with the ball in the mid-field. The high pressure with the word Go soon began to take a toll on the players.
Jackson Singh, who was one of the changes from the previous game, sent a lovely ball to the left flank to release Manveer Singh in the sixth minute. The left forward cut back to lose his marker and then removed another challenger with relative ease but was brought down, which the referee deemed fair. Afghanistan got a break but Ahmed Omran Hydari illegally brought down Sandesh Jhingan to end the attack.
By the 10th minute, Liston Colaco had been faced three times and the referee finally relented. He stepped up and took the free-kick from close to 30 meters but his effort flashed harmlessly on the bar.
Four minutes later Ashiq Kurunian, the second freshman in the starting line-up, was freed again by Liston on the left bank, but his bottom cross in the box was stolen from Sunil Chhetri’s feet.
In the 22nd minute, Ashiq tried to take too many players to the left of the center line, but lost possession. He tried to stop Farshad Noor’s counter-attack by dragging him to the ground, which the Afghans did not take lightly and rebuked. A scuffle broke out between the teams as the referee showed Farshad yellow for his reaction. Such was the intensity of the game that Aaron Amiri found himself with a torn shirt that had to be replaced.
Roshan was also at his lively best of overlap and got a decent strike from a tight angle, but his effort ended for a corner.
India were the dominant side and were rising in confidence as the Afghanistan players kept their hands on their hips.
Liston again hits the ball to the edge of the left flank and uses his strength and style to cut inside but is pulled back. He immediately turned to request a free-kick, which the referee obliged after some deliberation. Chhetri took charge but his initial effort and his chase was blocked as Anwar’s shot also went ahead.
From the corner, Afghanistan were on the break, but a good last-ditch challenge from Jhingan only saw the danger of going down for the central defender to grab his hamstring. Stimac looked worried but the commander behind him stood up again in no time with half-time following.
Soon after the break, Manveer cushions a cross at the far post, which Chhetri tries to latch on, but his effort goes too wide.
Ahmed Omran Hydari missed his jump despite being free in the box with India’s momentary defensive lapse.
Aashiq tried his luck from a distance in the 69th minute but his effort got widened. Then exactly three minutes later, Manveer sent a delicious cross to the back post, that Chhetri missed. Anwar’s attempt from the corner ends. The Afghan slipped into his own attack, which was saved by Gurpreet astonishingly and kicked to relative safety.
In the 78th minute, Brandon missed arguably the easiest opportunity of the night, as the ball hit his leg with a hopeful cut-back, which was blasted by the mid-fielder.
In the 83rd minute, Akash Mishra stole the ball in his own half and stormed Afghanistan’s defence, but Ashiq took it back and ran again. He was brought down in a dangerous area as the referee blew his whistle.
Chhetri stepped up with the weight of the nation on his shoulders and calmly slid his home in the 85th minute as the crowd burst into cheers of applause.
The crowd was stunned within minutes when Zubair Amiri threw his header over the keeper at the 88th minute mark.
Sahal Abdul Samad, who came in for Chhetri a while back, drove the crowd crazy with a beautiful shot which the keeper missed in the 91st minute to keep India’s continental dream alive.