As India mulls over the recent cricket World Cup Final loss to Australia, the Indian football team is quietly striving for a spot in the FIFA World Cup 2026. After defeating Kuwait 1-0, the Blue Tigers face Qatar today in the FIFA World Cup qualifiers.
- Meanwhile, the Indian football team has embarked on a significant yet overlooked journey to secure their maiden qualification for the 2026 FIFA World Cup after a promising start to the Asian FIFA qualifiers.
- India initiated their 2026 World Cup qualifiers with a resounding victory against Kuwait in the opening Qualifier game at the Jaber Al-Ahmad International Stadium in Kuwait.
- India faces the 61st-ranked Qatar in their next World Cup Qualifier match at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar today at 7 pm.
- In the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers, India faced Qatar, succumbing to a 0-1 defeat against the Asian giants on June 4, 2021, reducing to ten men in the 17th minute.
Qualifying for FIFA World Cup 2026
- With the implementation of a new game-format, the next FIFA World Cup will be bigger, going from 32 to 48 teams.
- This means that there will be more matches, allowing each confederation to have more teams in the tournament.
- In-accordance with this new format, Asia has been allotted eight direct World Cup slots, with an additional potential slot determined by a unique inter-confederation playoff.
- This format differs from their previous allocation of four direct spots, along with the chance for another spot through an inter-confederation playoff.
Asian qualification scenario
- Asia has been allocated eight direct World Cup slots, with a potential ninth slot through a unique inter-confederation playoff, a notable shift from the prior allocation of four direct spots and a chance for another through playoff.
- India faces potentially five qualification rounds against other Asian teams. In Round 2 (October 2022 to November 2025), they play home and away fixtures against Group rivals (Afghanistan, Qatar, and Kuwait).
- Securing a top-two finish in the group table qualifies India for the next round, following a similar format among the top two teams from each group.
- Initially, 46 teams compete across the first four rounds, with eight progressing.
- The victor of the fifth round qualifies for the inter-confederation playoff.
India’s qualification scenario
- To secure a place in the FIFA World Cup 2026, India must secure a top-two finish in the second and third rounds of the qualifiers.
- In the fourth round, India need to emerge as a group winner.
- Failing this, a victory in the fifth round is essential for qualification.
- A win in the subsequent inter-confederation play-off will then guarantee India a spot in the 2026 FIFA World Cup.
Football entusiasts can catch the Indian team in action on Sports 18 and Sports 18 HD and can also stream the match on the Jio Cinema App from 7pm today.