India in 2026 WC Qualifiers – An Overview

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Emotions are running high and disappointment continues to exist as India bowed out of the 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifying after a narrow and controversial loss to Qatar. There have been many memorable experiences, both good and bad, from the win in Kuwait to the defeat in Qatar. Setting aside emotions and controversial decisions, let’s examine a few of the campaign’s aspects in depth.

Moment to Remember

This campaign has seen many bad nights, such as the 3-0 loss to Qatar in Bhubaneshwar and the 1-0 loss to Afghanistan in Guwahati. However, the Blue Tigers’ best performance came away from home at the Jaber Al-Ahmad International Stadium in Kuwait, where Igor Stimac’s team defeated the hosts Kuwait 1-0 in a fiercely competitive contest. The game’s lone goal came from Manvir Singh, who made an explosive run into the box and finished off a wonderful cross from Lallianzuala Chhangte from the left wing.

India
Manvir and Chhangte celebrating after the goal against Kuwait

The victory away from home, which hasn’t happened often under Igor Stimac, was the nicest thing about the result. Kuwait beat the Blue Tigers 9-1 in Abu Dhabi in 2010. Thirteen years later, India defeated Kuwait on the road for the first time ever in all competitions. Not only was the outcome favorable, but Igor Stimac’s team performed at their best of the whole campaign against Kuwait. In an attempt to gain all three points, the Blue Tigers played a new style of football—attacking and scoring goals—instead of traveling away from home and defending passively.

Moment to Forget

The campaign’s worst night was the 2-1 loss at home against a weakened Afghanistan team in front of about 9,000 odd spectators at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in Guwahati. While the 0-0 tie with the Afghans away from home was a disappointing outcome as well, Stimac had his reasons regarding the stadium’s altitude and the journey to Saudi Arabia. However, the Indian National team’s home defeat to Ashley Westwood’s team at home is undoubtedly the worst game of the season and among the most disastrous results in Igor Stimac’s time as head coach.

Chhetri
Chhetri scored the only goal against Afghanistan

Sunil Chhetri’s penalty gave the Blue Tigers an early lead, but they bottled it late in the second half, conceding twice and losing all three points. The team’s inability to create opportunities and score goals from open play against lower-ranked countries was once again on display throughout the match as they were unable to both create and take advantage of their opportunities. Following the result, Igor Stimac faced severe scrutiny, with many Indian football fans calling for the head coach’s dismissal.

Player of the Campaign

Lallianzuala Chhangte was without a doubt the Blue Tigers’ best player for the whole campaign. Even though a number of players have performed brilliantly in different games, Chhangte has been the Indian team’s most consistent performer across all games. Throughout the campaign, he demonstrated his quality at every minute and was a continuous threat to the opposing team. In the first game against Kuwait, the Mumbai City FC winger was at his best. He was electrifying all game long and set up the goal that handed the Blue Tigers the vital three points away from home. He also scored the only goal in the final match against Qatar.

Chhangte
Chhangte in action against Qatar

The numbers do not tell the whole picture of Chhangte’s performance, even though someone may glance back and conclude that he has only contributed to two goals in six games. He was by far India’s finest attacker of the campaign, having produced one and scored the other of Igor Stimac’s team’s two open-play goals in the campaign. He emerged as the Blue Tigers’ primary offensive outlet throughout the campaign with his speed, skills, and technical abilities. The squad and the supporters would expect Chhangte to step up and provide more goals and assists now that Chhetri is retired.

What went wrong?

It is easy to find many areas where the Indian National Team, and especially the team’s head coach, went wrong throughout the campaign, but the primary error he made was in the players he chose to play. By not selecting in-form ISL players over seasoned players who have under-performed at their individual teams this season, Igor Stimac made a mistake. Even if experience is crucial when playing intense matches like these, it seems like Stimac made a mistake in not choosing players who were smashing in the league.

India
Indian players coming out for warm-up ahead of the game

Let’s consider Amey Ranawade’s situation as an example. One of the best RBs in the league and a player who has been in outstanding form for his club all season, he was chosen for the NT camp for the games against Kuwait and Qatar as well as the games against Afghanistan. But during the entire campaign, he did not play for a minute. Interestingly, Amey was left out of the final traveling group to Qatar, and Mehtab started as right-back in place of Nikhil, who was injured in the final game. Similar to this, despite being chosen for the camp, players like Imran Khan—who was playing well in the league—were not used at all.

Find of the campaign

Jay Gupta has proven to be one of the Blue Tigers’ best finds this campaign, despite the fact that the team’s performance has been mostly disappointing. In spite of just participating in the final two matches of the qualifying campaign, he appeared to be a genuine danger moving forward and to be comfortable at left-back in spite of lapses defensively. He could prove to be a valuable asset for the National Team in the future with a few more games played and experience gained. Edmund Lalrindika, a winger in the I-League, is another player who has apparently impressed the coaching staff.

What next for Igor Stimac?

Stimac
Igor Stimac addressing the media

This was maybe India’s greatest opportunity to advance to the third round of the World Cup Qualifying competition. A victory in any of the final five games would have advanced us to the next stage following our victory over Kuwait in the opening game. Some fans supported Stimac and his project despite the lackluster AFC Asian Cup campaign but the majority of the supporters gave up on Stimac after the team’s defeat to a deeply weakened Afghanistan. Igor Stimac’s future is uncertain as a result of the country’s failure to advance to the next round; previously at a press conference, the Croatian stated he would step down if he was unable to lead his team past the second round.


Follow IFTWC for more updates on Indian Football.

Shyam Sundar
Shyam Sundar
A youthful, diehard supporter of the Indian Football Team and Chennaiyin FC. Before the Lockdown, I didn't often watch Indian football! I occasionally kept up with the Blue Tigers, but not consistently. But ever since the lockdown, I've become really interested in Indian football. I may not have a background in journalism, but Indian football is something I am really passionate about.

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