New Delhi, 28 July: India has been placed in a tough group A with reigning Asian champions Qatar and Kuwait for the second round of the Football World Cup 2026 AFC qualifiers. Either Mongolia and Afghanistan will join the group from the first round.
The official draw ceremony was conducted at the AFC House in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on Thursday.
The second round of the World Cup AFC qualifiers, scheduled from November 16, 2023, to June 11, 2024, will see 36 football teams compete. While 26 of them, including India, got direct entries into the second round, the remaining 10 will be chosen from the first round of matches involving 20 teams.
The winner of the two-legged home-away format playoffs between Mongolia and Afghanistan will join India, Qatar and Kuwait in Group A of the second round.
The 36 teams have been divided into nine groups. The teams in each group will play each other in a home-away round-robin format and the top two teams from each group will make round three of the qualifiers. The 18 teams will also qualify for the 2027 AFC Asian Cup.
World No. 99 in the FIFA men’s football rankings, India is the second-best team in Group A of the second-round qualifiers behind world No. 59 Qatar. Kuwait are 137th.
Qatar, who won the last AFC Asian Cup in 2019, will be the outright favourites to win the group. India, however, did manage to hold the Asian powerhouses to a 0-0 draw in the FIFA World Cup 2022 qualifiers in September 2019. The 2022 FIFA World Cup was hosted by Qatar.
The Igor Stimac-coached Indian side also played Kuwait twice this year in the 2023 SAFF Championship. The first match ended in a 1-1 draw while Sunil Chhetri led team won on penalties in the final.
India are slated to start their FIFA World Cup 2026 AFC qualifiers second round campaign against Kuwait on November 16 while their final match will be against Qatar on June 11 next year.
India have never qualified for the main draw of the FIFA World Cup.
Group A: Qatar, India, Kuwait, Afghanistan/Mongolia,
Group B: Japan, Syria, North Korea, Myanmar/Macau
Group C: Korea, China, Thailand, Singapore/Guam,
Group D: Oman, Kyrgyz Republic, Malaysia, Chinese Taipei/Timor-Leste
Group E: Iran, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Hong Kong China/Bhutan,
Group F: Iraq, Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia/Brunei
Group G: Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Tajikistan, Cambodia/Pakistan,
Group H: UAE, Bahrain, Yemen/Sri Lanka, Nepal/Laos
Group I: Australia, Palestine, Lebanon, Maldives/Bangladesh