FIFA WC Qualifiers: How India has fared against its opponents since 2000
India will encounter Qatar, Kuwait, Afghanistan/Mongolia in Group A in Round 2 of the 2026 Men's World Cup Qualifiers. How has India traditionally fared against these teams?
With the 2026 FIFA Men's World Cup Qualifiers Round 2 on the horizon, India's national football team has been placed in 'Group A.' The group stage will see India facing AFC Asian Cup reigning champion Qatar, Kuwait, and either Mongolia or Afghanistan.
Notably, India's recent rise in the FIFA rankings on the back of its impressive performances at home - the Blue Tigers have won three consecutive tournaments at home and remained unbeaten for 11 matches - helped them rise to 99 and remained ranked 18th in the AFC rankings. As India is ranked among the top 20 Asian footballing nations, they earned a direct entry into Round 2, skipping the first round of Asian qualification process.
As the excitement builds up for the qualifiers, which start in October, let's delve into a comprehensive analysis of India's past performances against these opponents since the turn of the century. These records will shed light on the Blue Tigers' historical encounters with each team and what lies ahead in their quest for World Cup glory.
Qatar - FIFA Rank 59
India has faced Qatar twice in the last four years. In both instances, Stimac's men produced resilient defensive performances.
In 2019, when India encountered The Maroons in its backyard, India held their nerves and ensured a 0-0 stalemate. Gurpreet Singh Sandhu produced 11 remarkable saves to keep the Asian champion quiet.
But when the two nations met again in 2021, India fought well but succumbed to Abdulaziz Hatem's 34th minute solitary strike, which ensured a 1-0 victory for Qatar.
India has not won against a nation ranked in the top 60 for almost two decades. Can Gurpreet replicate his heroics yet again?
Table 1.0: India's record against Qatar
Kuwait - FIFA Rank 137
India and Kuwait have clashed on the football pitch four times in the last two decades. Two of these clashes were friendlies in 2004 and 2010. At the same time, the two nations met each other twice again in a week in the recently concluded 2023 SAFF Championship.
In the SAFF Championship, held in Bengaluru, India looked like the better outfit. In the group stage match, skipper Sunil Chhetri gave India the lead in injury time of the first half. After maintaining exemplary defensive discipline for the remainder of the game, a lapse of concentration led to Indian defender Anwar Ali committing an own goal two minutes into stoppage time. Consequently, letting Kuwait off the hook and salvage a draw.
But the Blue Tigers bounced back and defeated Kuwait in the penalties in the final of the SAFF Championship. It was a 1-1 deadlock at the end of extra time. India would go on to win 5-4 on penalties to secure the silverware for the ninth time and pull off a memorable outing.
Since 2000, while encountering a team in the top 60, India has managed to secure a win only once. That win came against 60th-ranked Kuwait in a friendly match in 2004. Tomba Singh, Jerry Zirsanga, and Abhishek Yadav featured on the scoresheet to help India successfully make a memorable comeback from 1-2 to register a thrilling 3-2 victory.
Table 2.0: India's record against Kuwait.
Afghanistan - FIFA Rank 157
Statistics favour India over its neighbour. India has recorded seven victories and suffered only one defeat against Afghanistan in its footballing history.
India's most recent victory came in 2021 at the AFC Asian Cup. Chhetri put the men in blue ahead in the 85th minute, but Afghanistan's Zubayr Amiri immediately nullified it with an equaliser in the 88th minute.
However, India responded with grit and determination as Sahal Abdul Samad scored the late winner.
Table 3.0: India's record against Afghanistan.
Mongolia - FIFA Rank 183
India had never encountered Mongolia till 2023 at the Hero Intercontinental Cup.
Goals from Sahal Abdul Samad and Lallianzuala Chhangte secured a comfortable 2-0 victory for the Blue Tigers.
Table 4.0: India's record against Mongolia.
India will witness a significant increase in competition quality if it secures a spot in the top two of Group A. The third round of qualifiers will see 18 teams progress - 9 table-toppers and 9 runners-up.
Three groups, comprising six teams each will then be formulated. Up next, India might have to pit its skills against football stalwarts such as Japan, Australia, South Korea, among others in its pursuit to winning a ticket to the 2026 FIFA Men's World Cup in the Americas.