India are all set to take on Afghanistan in their final Group E clash in the second round 2022 FIFA World Cup and 2023 AFC Asian Cup joint qualifiers at the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium in Doha, Qatar, on Tuesday.
The Blue Tigers resumed their campaign on June 3 with a 1-0 loss against Qatar before bouncing back with a 2-0 win over Bangladesh, courtesy of a brace by Sunil Chhetri in their penultimate match of the group stage.
While India does not stand a chance of making it to the next round of the World Cup qualification, they have a very good chance of finishing third in the group stage and qualifying directly to the third round of the 2023 Asian Cup qualifiers if they avoid defeat against the Afghans in the final game. Afghanistan lost their penultimate group match against Oman 2-1 on Friday.
In the first phase tie, India and Afghanistan had played out a 1-1 draw in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. Zelfy Nazary had handed the hosts the lead in the first half but Seiminlen Doungel last-minute strike earned India a point.
Several Afghan players have plied their trade in India over the years and from the current squad, there are three players who are familiar names among Indian football fans. Two out of these three players played in the I-League last season.
Three players in Afghanistan with whom Indian fans are familiar
The Afghan midfielder recently extended his stay with Gokulam Kerala for one more year after playing a vital role in the Malabarians’ I-League winning 2020/21 season. Mukhammad was one of the key players in the Gokulam squad last season and had also scored a crucial goal from a free-kick in the final match of the season against TRAU.
In what was a virtual final between Gokulam and TRAU FC on the last matchday of the I-League season, the South Indian outfit were trailing with 20 minutes left in the match when Sharif Mukhammad took the free-kick from outside the box and found the back of the net with a stunning kick. Thereafter, Gokulam went on to score three more goals in the match which helped them to the I-League title but it was Mukhammad’s strike that brought Vincenzo Alberto Annese’s side back in the game.
Afghanistan national team defender Masih Saighani has played in both the I-League and the Indian Super League (ISL). He came to India for the first time during the 2017/18 season and played for Aizawl FC under Santosh Kashyap in the I-League. He had also represented the Mizoram club in the AFC Champions League play-offs.
In the 2019/20 season, he returned to India after plying his trade in Bangladesh for a year and joined ISL side Chennaiyin FC. Saighani, who can play both as a central defender as well as a defensive midfielder, appeared in 12 ISL matches for the Marina Machans as they reached the final of the ISL.
Zohib Islam Haroon Fakhruddin Amiri
Among all the Afghan players, the most familiar face among the Indian fans is Zohib Islam Amiri. The 34-year-old defender has spent the majority of his professional career in India and has played for eight different Indian clubs in the last 10 years and appeared in more than 100 matches in the I-League.
Amiri came to India in 2011 and joined Mumbai FC in the I-League. Other than Mumbai, he has played for Dempo SC, Chennai City FC and Mohun Bagan. Last season he had played for Real Kashmir in the I-League. In the inaugural edition of the ISL in 2014, he was a part of FC Goa’s squad.