India vs. Qatar: All you need to know before the FIFA 2026 AFC world cup qualifiers match being played at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneshwar, India.
On Tuesday, India is eagerly awaiting its second group match in the 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifiers against the current Asian champions, Qatar, at the Kalinga Stadium. After a convincing 1-0 victory in Kuwait, India will be filled with confidence, where their defensive strength shone on a big occasion, giving coach Igor Stimac a positive start to the qualifying campaign.
Qatar made their intentions clear in the first match of the group, defeating Afghanistan 8-1 at home, with their star striker Almoez Ali scoring four goals in that game.
The Croatian head coach of India made some bold moves against Kuwait, besides benching Lalengmawia Chhangte, and they paid off. Apart from bringing in Manvir Singh, who assisted in the winning goal, in place of Chhangte, he reintroduced Apuia Ralte, who hadn’t made the squad in the previous two national camps, and provided a stable presence in midfield alongside Suresh Wangjam. Rahul Bheke strengthened India’s defense in the center with Sandesh Jhingan, providing both solidity and strength.
So, all of Stimac’s calls worked wonders. No player has given him a reason to change the team again. Especially, Bheke’s mind will be on redemption against Qatar, as the last time these two teams played each other, he was sent off in the 17th minute, leading to Qatar’s 1-0 victory.
In this match, India may not see much of the ball, so capitalizing on counter-attacking situations will be crucial. Manvir’s pace and strength can be an outlet, but after the training session before the match against Kuwait, Stimac might have missed the opportunity to prepare for such situations against the Qatari lineage team.
Another issue of contention could be the position of Sahal Abdul Samad, without any fault of his own. If Stimac feels the need for a more defensive-minded player in midfield with Apuia and Suresh, Sahal could potentially pave the way for Anirudh Thapa to make it difficult for the Qatari build-up.
Key Player for India:
Gurpreet Singh Sandhu played a crucial role in India’s last World Cup qualifying campaign in Qatar, which ended in a goalless draw. Qatar boasts some of Asia’s best attacking players like Akram Afif, Hassan Al-Haydos, and Akram Afif. On that night in Doha, Gurpreet kept everything thrown at him, denying Gurpreet Pannu a chance. For someone who usually relishes big occasions, this is another opportunity for Gurpreet.
However, it won’t be a one-man show for Gurpreet. He will demand almost perfection from his defenders. Jhingan will have to put his body on the line, Bheke needs to stay steady alongside, and Akash Mishra and Nikhil Poojary have to handle one-on-one battles effectively. But when they step up against Qatar’s lineage team, there is no doubt they will create chances, and Gurpreet’s dependence on maintaining a clean sheet will be crucial until he can manage it.
India has already shown in 2023 that they can go toe-to-toe against stronger Asian sides, drawing 2-2 against Iraq in September, and that should give them some confidence. But when the Asian champions come to town, the nature of the beast becomes stronger and more formidable. While it may be beyond Stimac’s dreams to win all six points available in the first two matches, India stands on the cusp of a golden opportunity. Can they seize it?
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