Sat. Apr 13th, 2024
Memories of feisty encounters come rushing to Sunil Chhetri

Adopted by Nepal, Afghanistan are the side India have faced the most number of instances in the final 15 several years. That incorporates 3 consecutive SAFF Championship finals, two World Cup Qualifiers and 1 Asian Cup Qualifier.

If there ended up any uncertainties that this regional rivalry had run its class following Afghanistan left SAFF in 2016, they were erased as the Blue Tigers and the Lions of Khorasan were drawn with each other in the exact teams of the 2022 FIFA Globe Cup Qualifiers, the 2023 AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers, and now the 2026 FIFA Environment Cup Qualifiers.

The record of India-Afghanistan fixtures goes again to 1949 when they achieved in a sequence of welcoming matches in Kabul just before a very first competitive meeting at the 1951 Asian Games in Delhi, but in modern times, the stakes have only gone better, and most of the meetings have been nail-biting affairs, once in a while boiling more than.

Nobody in the Indian squad can convey to about Afghanistan much better than Sunil Chhetri. He has performed 8 matches against them (very first at the 2008 AFC Problem Cup in Hyderabad), scoring four objectives – the absolutely free-kick in Kolkata in 2022 maybe the most stunning of them.

“They have progressively improved from when we achieved them for the initially time,” explained Chhetri. “The games ended up at ease, but slowly but surely and steadily they progressed. And for the reason that of becoming in the very same area, the rivalry also produced. Therefore, the game titles grew to become fairly near. The two India and Afghanistan have enhanced in the past decade or so. Getting players who participate in exterior has really assisted them.”

Involving 2011 and 2016, the SAFF Championship trophy only passed between the palms of India and Afghanistan as they contested 3 straight finals, getting the rivalry to the future stage. In 2011, India blanked them 4- on a chilly winter evening in Delhi. Sunil Chhetri, Clifford Miranda, Jeje Lalpekhlua and Sushil Kumar Singh scored 25 minutes aside in a next-50 percent blitz.

Having said that, the 2013 final was and even now is Afghanistan’s greatest-at any time footballing instant. With a 2- win over India in Kathmandu, they clinched their first-ever silverware, also recording what remains their only victory above the Blue Tigers. “I was on the bench, I remember, sure,” recalled Chhetri, who arrived on in the 60th minute, but it was not adequate to protect against the decline.

Two years later, India bought their revenge. The 2015 edition was India’s most thrilling SAFF Championship triumph until finally it was surpassed by the 2023 remaining in Bengaluru. Over 40,000 in Thiruvananthapuram witnessed Stephen Constantine’s facet script a 2-1 comeback victory in excess of the Afghans in added time. Jeje Lalpekhlua flicked in Chhetri’s header to cancel Zubayr Amiri’s opener just before the skipper squeezed in the winner in the 101st moment to seal a title which continue to remains new in his memory.

In the previous 5 yrs, the rivalry has shifted to the continental phase. There was nothing to individual India and Afghanistan in the two video games of the 2022 FIFA Environment Cup Qualifiers — 1-1 attracts each in the away fixture in Tajikistan in November 2019, courtesy of Seiminlen Doungel’s very last-minute equaliser, and in India’s dwelling fixture performed at a neutral location in Qatar in June 2021 thanks to the pandemic.

But Chhetri’s favorite India-Afghanistan minute came in 2022 when the Blue Tigers triumphed 2-1 just after loads of late drama at the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan in Kolkata, therefore ensuring qualification for successive AFC Asian Cups for the first time ever. An exquisite Chhetri free-kick broke 85 minutes of deadlock to at last set India ahead, however, Zubayr Amiri believed he experienced earned Afghanistan a position when he headed in the equaliser just two minutes afterwards. But Sahal Abdul Samad experienced other options as he slotted in a 91st-minute winner to deliver 44,000 fans into raptures.

“The rivalry has been feisty. Irrespective of whether it was the ultimate in Kerala (SAFF Championship 2015) or the Asian Cup Qualifier in Kolkata,” explained Chhetri.

“I would decide the latter (as his favourite moment). The only detail we don’t forget from that match is Sahal’s objective mainly because of the way it turned out. None of us, possibly the complete region would not recall everything else but the included-time purpose. Udanta preserving the ball in, offering it to Ashique, Ashique keeping the ball and laying it to Sahal, and Sahal finishing it. That most likely will continue to be with all of us for a extended, prolonged time mainly because the significance of the purpose was big at that second as it gave us qualification for the Asian Cup,” the captain shared.

Quickly ahead to the current day, India and Afghanistan will meet up with twice in a gap of five times (March 21 and 26) as they hunt for a spot in Round 3 of the 2026 FIFA Entire world Cup Qualifiers. The new Indo-Afghan chapter will be scripted in two venues more than 5,000 kilometres aside – from the coolness of Abha to the humidity of Guwahati.

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By TFW

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