On Saturday, India defeated Afghanistan 2-1 in the AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers in Kolkata, thanks to a magnificent goal from captain Sunil Chhetri and an injury-time strike from Sahal Abdul Samad.
The victory helps India maintain their lead in the group as they look to make their second consecutive appearance in the Asian Cup and fifth overall, after being eliminated in the group stage in the last edition in 2019.
After being denied for 86 minutes, Chhetri gave India the lead with a superb free-kick from little over 20 yards, taking only a few steps before slamming the ball into the right corner of the net, beating Afghanistan’s goalkeeper.
It was the Indian superstar’s 83rd goal in international football, putting him in a tie with Argentina’s Lionel Messi for second place among active players.
Afghanistan equalized two minutes later, as Zubayr Amiri scored a spectacular header in the 88th minute. He was also helped by the Indian defenders’ poor marking.
The game appeared to be heading for a 1-1 draw, but Samad had other ideas. Samad got space for himself after a great cross from Ashique Kuruniyan to strike the ball past the Afghanistan goalie, sending the Salt Lake Stadium crowd into a frenzy.
In a game in which India produced numerous chances and demonstrated their purpose from the start, Ashique was one of the standout performers for the home team, creating several chances to have Afghanistan defense on their toes throughout the encounter.
For the most part, India controlled the encounter and emerged as merited winners.
The hosts were coming off a 2-0 victory against Cambodia in the first match, while Afghanistan was coming off a loss to Hong Kong.
On June 14, India will meet Hong Kong in their final qualification match.