Kolkata: The inspiring Sunil Chhetri would try to pick up from where he started against Cambodia as India takes on Afghanistan in their second match of the Asian Cup Qualifiers here on Saturday.
On a night of missed chances, the 37-year-old veteran scored a goal in each half to give Igor Stimac’s side all three points, helping the group hosts Hong Kong stay ahead on goal difference after Jorn Andersen‘s team won 2-1 against Afghanistan in the first game on Wednesday.
Seeking a second consecutive Asian Cup Finals, Chhetri-led India would try their best, especially up front with the likes of Liston Colaco, Manvir Singh, Udanta Singh, Ashique Kuruniyan and Roshan Singh hoping to improve their finishing abilities.
They all had plenty of chances but failed to make an impact in terms of scoring and it was once again left to the veteran to calm the nerves with his brace taking his international score to 82 goals, behind Cristiano Ronaldo (117) and Lionel Messi (86).
“I’m tired of answering this question,” Stimac said when asked about life after Chhetri.
“When he (Sunil) is with us, I don’t care if others don’t score. If he’s not there, others start to score. Why look for someone else if he scores two goals every day?” he asked.
From an Afghan point of view it will be a do-or-die match and the physically stronger team would try to make it count against the Indian backline of Roshan Singh, Sandesh Jhingan, Anwar Ali and Akash Mishra, who made the most impression during their outing against Cambodia.
In such a scenario, the offensive lineup would “kill the fight” by scoring early goals, something that buried Afghanistan against Hong Kong.
Roshan’s fitness was a concern after their outing against Cambodia and Stimac said they would review his comment on the sidelines of their training.
“Obviously this match will be much more difficult. There are many quality moves against Hong Kong. They kept changing positions and made many crosses in the penalty area.
“We have to be smart and attack very well. We have to win more aerial duels. We have to concentrate well, stay calm. I have full confidence in a win,” Stimac added.
However, India, which has a personal best of 6-1 in 10 encounters against the ‘Lions of Khorasan’, has not beaten them in the SAFF Championships since January 3, 2016.
Since then, the Blue Tigers have drawn two 1-1 draws in World Cup qualifiers, something emphasized by Afghan coach Anoush Dastgir, who said they are looking for “revenge” in qualifying.
Of their defeat to Hong Kong, he said, “in the first minutes we killed ourselves, it was very difficult to come back.”
But judging by their performance against Hong Kong, Dastgir’s side rarely threatened to block their captain Farshad Noor’s 81st minute, narrowing their margin.
The key to their attacks lies with Faysal Shayesteh, who is just one goal away from Afghanistan’s all-time top scorer.
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