- Indian football team scored a goal in the 93rd minute to rescue a point in their game against Afghanistan.
- Seminlen Doungel came off the bench to score a towering header in the dying minutes to keep India's search for a top 2 finish alive.
- The Blue Tigers will be travelling to Muscat as they face Oman in the next qualification game on Tuesday.
The Indian football team left it late yet again to secure a point in their World Cup Qualifiers group. The game against Afghanistan which was played in Dushanbe, the team rescued a point in the 90th minute after going down in the 45th minute. In their previous game against Bangladesh, the Blue Tigers came back from a goal down to level the scores in the 83rd minute.
A cold evening in Dushanbe
Playing the match in temperatures that reached 9 degrees, the hosts took their chances to put the Indian team on the back-foot. A goal from Zelfy Nazary in the 45th minute meant India had to do it all over again to try and rescue a point. Igor Stimac made 3 changes to his side in the 2nd half, which seemed to have worked well for the Blues.
Seminlen Doungel came on for India in the 76th minute. He was sent off in FC Goa’s dramatic draw against NorthEast United FC, after coming on as a sub. However, this time he made no mistakes and rescued a point for the Blues after scoring a towering header in the 93rd minute and secured a point for India.
Currently, the Indian team is on 3 points, which have come from 3 draws. Having lost one game, they are yet to secure a win in the qualifiers.
India is placed in Group E alongside the 2 teams from the middle-east, Qatar and Oman who are dominating the group so far. While neighbours Afghanistan and Bangladesh are struggling to secure wins just like India.
Can India qualify for the 2022 World Cup?
Since the Indian team is in the same group as the hosts for the 2022 World Cup Qatar, a 2nd place finish is a must. However, that will be better said than done, especially after the draw on Thursday.
With three points in the first four games, the Blue Tigers are currently placed fourth. More importantly, they find themselves six points behind second-placed Oman.
Although eclipsing Qatar may be no less than a dream, the team will have to beat Oman to make it to the coveted second place in the table and thus the next stage of the WC qualifiers.
And to do so, a win away against Oman on 19th November is a must. It will be a tough call, though, given the side’s domination at home. The middle eastern outfit has been undefeated in its last 6 home games. In its last game, the team beat Bangladesh by a comfortable 4-1.
However, if they do manage to win, the Blues will be only 3 points adrift their middle eastern rivals.
With 3 more games to play from then on, securing at least 2 wins and not losing in the third would present the best possible chance for Igor Stimac’s side to qualify.
However, that won’t be enough. Qatar will have to do India a favour by defeating Afghanistan on Tuesday and then Oman when the 2 middle eastern sides face-off in March 2020.
The fixture against the mighty Qatar is fortunately at home, thus giving India a fair chance of winning. Winning in these two contest, then, would decide the destiny of the Blues.
The last two fixtures, away Bangladesh followed by Afghanistan at home, would be relatively easier if the team has won two games on the trot.
Moreover, if India finishes in the 2nd spot, they will progress for the third round of the World Cup Qualifiers and directly for the Asian Cup. A third place finish for India will see them qualify for the 3rd round, while a 4th/5th place finish will see them in the play-off rounds.
Planning for the future
Although his team drew against Afghanistan, Igor Stimac was elevated about the team’s future prospects. “Since then (the Asian Cup), we have adopted a totally different approach to the football we play. Before I took over the team, India were playing with six players at the back, going for long balls and trying to attack with four players up front. I was brought into position to change that and we are in the process of building up a new Indian team for the future and we are concentrating on the World Cup 2026. It’s a long process and a difficult one,” said the Croatian Manager.
Young talents like Sahal Abdul Samad, Seminlen Doungel, Farukh Choudhary and co. mixed with experienced players like Sunil Chhetri, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Adil Khan etc are sure to click as a squad in the near future and be regular features in global competitions.
As football fans and hopefuls that the team makes it to the bigger competitions, we can only patiently wait and be positive about the current phase that the Indian team is going through.