India will face a test of their credentials when they host Qatar in Group A of the Preliminary Joint Qualification – Round 2 for the FIFA World Cup 2026 and AFC Asian Cup Saudi Arabia 2027 at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar today.
India will face the reigning Asian champions who were simply unstoppable in an 8-1 win over Afghanistan on Thursday with head coach Carlos Queiroz setting them the target of a perfect campaign.
However, Queiroz is also expecting a tough challenge from India as Qatar seek their second consecutive victory in Group A and first away win.
“We are evolving day by day as a team, having a good opportunity to showcase an excellent image of the squad. Our goal is to be the best on the field, as it gives us more chances to score and win,” said Queiroz.
Qatar captain Hassan al-Haydos felt the team was fully focused against the hosts.
“I’ve played many times against the Indian national team, a team that is progressing day by day. We’ve turned the page on the last game and our aim is to secure three points in our second match of the qualifying stage,” he said.
Coached by Croatian Igor Stimac, India also opened the competition with a win, claiming an away 1-0 victory over Kuwait.
Qatar had met India in the qualifying event of the previous edition beating them 1-0 in the reverse fixture after a goalless draw in a home game.
Qatar will be a different challenge altogether with head coach Igor Stimac expecting an extremely difficult encounter.
Almoez Ali starred with four goals against Afghanistan but Qatar’s strength is across the squad and they will fancy their chances of another win despite playing away.
The Indian team is yet to find a win against Qatar. They have faced Qatar thrice before this upcoming match but have never won a single match. Qatar has won two matches while India managed to draw a game.
“It’s a game, where there is nothing to lose for us but a lot to win for. So let’s go for it all out,” said Stimac at the pre-match press conference.
“We cannot control the external factors. We can only control our performances at the individual level and as a team. The only thing for us to do is to give our best for 90 minutes when the first whistle sounds.”
The Croatian, however, was extremely pleased with his team’s performance against Kuwait.
“Kuwait are our strongest opponents for the second spot. To start with a win against them gives us a clear idea of what we need to do in the remaining games (to qualify for the third round).”
Stimac reiterated that this year has been the most consistent one for India under his tenure.
“When you play high-level games consecutively without losing, facing Kyrgyzstan, Kuwait three times, Lebanon twice, Iraq and you don’t lose matches and keep clean sheets, it’s quite evident that you are consistent,” he said.
Accompanying the coach in the press conference was goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, who delivered one of the performances of his life, making 11 saves as India had held Qatar 0-0 in their own den in the World Cup Qualifiers in 2019.
“Hopefully I have less work (this time),” he chuckled. “Maximum points with the least work possible is a goalkeeper’s dream. I want the players in front of me to enjoy, get on the scoresheet and give us the win.”
In the other fixture of the day, Afghanistan will take on Kuwait, with both teams aiming to rebound after having suffered defeats in round one.
With only the top two teams advancing to the third round, Afghanistan and Kuwait will have no room for error when they meet in the neutral venue of Dammam.
Kuwait were disappointed to have finished empty handed against India with head coach Rui Bento accepting responsibility for the defeat. Bento, however, will expect his side to bounce back against a young Afghanistan side at the Abdullah Al Dabil Stadium.
Today’s fixtures
India v Qatar
Venue: Kalinga Stadium (Bhubaneswar)
Kick-off: 4:30pm
Afghanistan v Kuwait
Venue: Al Ettifaq Club Stadium (Dammam)
Kick-off: 8:00pm
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