All eyes on Sunil Chhetri as India take on Afghanistan in high stakes FIFA World Cup 2026 qualifier

Sunil Chhetri ahead of the India v Afghanistan FIFA WCQ clash (Image: AIFF)

On the eve of a consequential and important game between India and Afghanistan, a FIFA 2026 World Cup qualifier at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in Guwahati, contrasting scenes unfolded in the training camps of the visitors and the home team.

The Lions of Khorasan, who held Sunil Chhetri and company to a goalless draw, appeared calm and relaxed while preparing for the return leg in Guwahati on Monday. Fun drills and banter between players were constant during their hour-long training session. As a drizzle started, it was a sight to behold as Afghanistan’s players immersed themselves in a 5 v 5 game with full intensity, reminiscent of their childhood days.
Their manager, Ashley Westwood, who had already labeled India as favourites during the news conference, also appeared relaxed, as if they were fully prepared since their time in Abha.

On the other hand, as the Blue Tigers took the field for last-minute preparations, the pressure of this high-stakes game was evident on every player’s face. Even Sunil Chhetri, who is set to make his 150th appearance for the national team, looked fully focused on the task at hand. However, a glimpse of a smile appeared on his face when North East United FC CEO and Former Bengaluru FC, Mandar Tamhane, felicitated the talismanic striker for his remarkable feat.


Under the supervision of high-profile coach Igor Stimac, the Blue Tigers wasted no time in fun or banter as they seemed fully focused on securing three points from Tuesday’s fixture.

Who will have the last laugh at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium? Will the Blue Tigers’ immense hard work in training pay off, or will Afghanistan, after a relaxed session on the matchday eve, turn out as a surprise package and spoil India’s plans in front of a hostile crowd?
Igor Stimac’s only concern remains that his team hasn’t scored a single goal in the last five games. “The scoring problem has been haunting us. “I cannot help our players in the final third. It’s about their individual quality. No coach can assist players in the final third. In three days, it’s impossible to change. But Igor Stimac revealed that he wants to field his best attacking front on Tuesday and also inject some fresh legs.”
This indicates that Brendon Fernandes may start instead of Vikram Partap Singh, as Sunil Chhetri might be seen spearheading India’s attack once again.

Haroon Amiri, Afghanistan’s captain, who has decided to hang up his boots after Tuesday’s fixture, wants to make his final game in the national colours memorable.


Nearly pulling off a victory in the last game against India, Afghanistan is ready for unfinished business, as in 2022 at Kolkata, Amiri’s header went in vain as Sahal Abdul Samad’s dying-minute strike sealed the game for the Blue Tigers.
With the head-to-head record favouring the hosts and being favoured on paper, as pointed out by Ashley Westwood, Igor Stimac and his boys are looking to make Chhetri’s 150th game memorable. They will also look to make the Guwahati crowd happy as the last time they left the stadium in despair after India went down to Oman 2-1 in a FIFA World Cup qualifier.


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