The Indian national team will play their second group encounter of the second round of 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifiers against Qatar on Tuesday in front of a sold-out Kalinga Stadium. Qatar is the reigning Asian champions.
India’s 1-0 victory away to Kuwait, where their defensive prowess was on display to provide Igor Stimac with the ideal start to the qualifying campaign, will fill them with confidence.
In their opening group game, Qatar made a bold statement by defeating Afghanistan 8-1 at home, with four goals from their standout scorer, Almoez Ali.
Does Stimac stick or twist?
In the triumph over Kuwait, India’s Croatian head coach took a number of bold decisions. Among them was benching Lallianzuala Chhangte, who later had a crucial impact as a replacement and helped Manvir Singh, who began the game in Chhangte’s initial position, score the winning goal.
After missing the previous two national camps, Apuia Ralte returned to the starting lineup and provided a steady presence in midfield with Suresh Wangjam. In addition to providing stability, Rahul Bheke entered the game to accompany Sandesh Jhingan at the center of India’s defense.
Thus, Stimac’s calls were all quite effective. Those players haven’t provided him any grounds to switch teams once more. Since Bheke was sent off in the 17th minute of the last meeting between these two teams—a game that Qatar won 1-0—he will be especially focused on making amends against Qatar.
Since India won’t likely have a lot of ball possession in this match, it will be important to take advantage of counterattacking opportunities. Manvir’s strength and speed may be one weapon, but the match-winning performance against Kuwait was absent from practice the night before this matchup with Qatar.
Without any fault of his own, Sahal Abdul Samad’s position could also be a source of dispute. Sahal might replace Anirudh Thapa in midfield if Stimac decides that a somewhat more defensive player is needed to go with Apuia and Suresh. This would be an effort to make things more difficult for the Qataris in the build-up.
India’s most important player:
In the last World Cup qualifying campaign, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu participated in a game that ended in a 0-0 draw away in Qatar, which turned out to be one of his best ever. Hassan Al-Haydos, Akram Afif, and other attacking players are among the top players in Asia who play for Qatar. They hurled everything at Gurpreet that night in Doha, but he repulsed it all.
That being said, Gurpreet won’t be working alone on this one. He’ll expect those in front of him to be almost flawless. Jhingan will risk all for his teammates, Bheke will stand by them, and Akash Mishra and Nikhil Poojary will engage in intense one-on-one combat. However, it is certain that they will create opportunities and have shots on goal when against a team of the caliber of Qatar. This is another one of those occasions for Gurpreet, a man who usually loves a good occasion.
There is a chance that Qatar may attempt to press the issue a little bit further and possibly create some offensive openings for India if he and his defense can keep that backdoor closed through the initial exchanges and for a sufficient amount of time into the game. Counterattacking is probably the game plan, and it depends on the big no. 1 keeping a clean sheet for as long as he can.
India already demonstrated in 2023 that they are capable of competing head-to-head with the stronger Asian teams, and their September 2-2 tie with Iraq should provide some confidence in them. However, the beast’s nature becomes even more formidable when the Asian champions visit the city. India are about to seize a fantastic opportunity, although Stimac may not have even imagined winning six of the first six points that were available. Could they seize it?