FIFA World Cup AFC Qualifiers: India to face Asian giants Qatar in a do-or-die match

Gurpreet Singh Sandhu
Indian Captain and Goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu.

The absence of striker Sunil Chhetri as a stalwart of Indian football will be felt now more than ever, as India take on reigning Asian champions Qatar in their Group A match of the FIFA World Cup 2026 AFC qualifiers at the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium in Doha on Tuesday. 

The Indian hopes of qualifying to the third round of the FIFA World Cup 2026 qualifiers now hangs in balance, as India need to grab a win against Qatar tonight to progress to the next round, thereby keeping their World Cup qualification dream alive. Currently, India are placed at the second spot right above Afghanistan, but differ only on goal difference as both the teams have 5 points each in their bags. 

Qatar have already secured the top spot with 13 points and a berth in the next round. Whereas, India managed to pick up just two points from their last two games against lower-ranked Afghanistan and a draw against Kuwait last week. Thus, India needs a win against Qatar to progress to the next round of the Qualifier, failing which India might risk elimination from the group stage. 

A draw tonight might also end up pushing India to the next round, if the other match between Afghanistan and Kuwait ends in a draw. If either of these two teams end up winning the match, then India will not end uo qualifying to the next round. On the other hand, India have failed to score a single open-field goal in seven matches, thus making the task of getting a point against the Qataris a Herculean one. 

“We are trying not to think about Sunil not being there. This is such an important game. There are 90 minutes ahead of us, a fantastic opportunity to make Indians across the world happy. We will die on the pitch, if needed,” said head coach Igor Stimac during the pre-match media interaction. As veteran striker Sunil Chhetri has already hung up his boots last week, the Indian men’s football team will now be led by the 32-year-old first-choice goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu. 

However, Qatar were held on to a goalless draw last week by Afghanistan. Stimac could help his case by taking a lead out of the Afghan book on how to push above one’s weight, thus hoping for a win against the Asian champions. Qatar are currently placed at 34 in the FIFA international rankings, while India are placed at 121. 

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