Chhetri scores in 150th game, but Afghans rally to stun India

Afghans stun India
Afghan players celebrate their upset win. Photo: PTI

Guwahati: Lower-ranked Afghanistan shocked India 2-1 as the home team suffered one of its most embarrassing defeats in recent years despite talisman Sunil Chhetri's 94th international goal in his 150th match, in the 2026 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers here on Tuesday.

In his landmark game, Chhetri did what was expected of him and found the back of the net from the spot in the 38th minute after Haroon Amiri handled the ball inside the box in India's home leg match in the second round of the joint qualifiers for the World Cup and 2027 AFC Asian Cup.

Afghanistan goalkeeper Ovays Azizi guessed it right but the 39-year-old Chhetri packed enough power in his shot to beat the visiting custodian, much to the delight of the crowd that thronged the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in anticipation of a fine performance from their much-loved player.

Attacking on the counter with three strikers upfront, Afghanistan equalised as Rahmat Akbari restored parity in the 70th minute after he shot from outside the box and the ball went through the legs of Rahul Bheke after a deflection to make it 1-1.

Disaster struck the Indians when a charging Gurpreet Singh was shown a yellow card and Sharif Mukhammad converted the resultant penalty to give his team a 2-1 lead with just two minutes left in regulation time.

After a brief phase of relentless end-to-end attacks, Chhetri's strike separated the two teams at the half-time and India held on to the lead until Akbari equalised before Mukhammad's later strike, which would eventually go on to dash Indian hopes as the visitors earned three points from the match.

Long before that, Liston Colaco came close to doubling India's lead. But he failed to control the ball as the Afghans managed to retrieve it from him.

Right at the start of the match, Manvir Singh missed an easy chance to put India ahead but his shot off a rebound, after a Chhetri shot rattled the woodwork, flew over the net.

Blue Tigers
Indian players congratulate Sunil Chhetri on scoring the opening goal. Photo: X@IndianFootball

India coach Igor Stimac made three substitutions and brought Anirudh Thapa, Naorem Mahesh and Lallianzuala Chhangte in place of Brandon Fernandes, Liston Colaco and Chhetri.

But, these changes did little to extend India's dominance and instead, the visitors found the equaliser. Worse was to follow as former Gokulam Kerala FC captain Mukhammad put the penalty past a hapless Sandhu to break Indian hearts.

India and Afghanistan had drawn the first leg 0-0 in Abha, Saudi Arabia, last Thursday. 

India remain in second place behind Qatar, with four points from as many games in Group A. Afghanistan also have four points, but they have a goal difference of -10 as opposed to India's -3.

The comments posted here/below/in the given space are not on behalf of Onmanorama. The person posting the comment will be in sole ownership of its responsibility. According to the central government's IT rules, obscene or offensive statement made against a person, religion, community or nation is a punishable offense, and legal action would be taken against people who indulge in such activities.