It will be a new-look Qatar squad that takes to the pitch against Afghanistan on Thursday in the joint qualification match for the FIFA World Cup 2026 and AFC Asian Cup 2027. The two-time AFC Asian Cup champions have opted to rest several key players for their concluding matches in Group A, having already confirmed berths in the third round of World Cup qualifiers and a place in the Asian Cup in Saudi Arabia.
Akram Afif and Almoez Ali will be among the absentees on Thursday at the Prince Abdullah Bin Jalawi Stadium in Al Hasa, Saudi Arabia as head coach Marquez Lopez looks to expose younger players ahead of their third round challenge in the FIFA World Cup 2026 qualifiers.
On the eve of the match, Lopez emphasised that match against Afghanistan is crucial for the development of young players.
“The match is important for our team, and we seek to win it without a doubt to complete the series of victories, especially with the young players selected for the match, after we rested a large group of players,” the Spaniard.
He highlighted the opportunity to see new players in action, underlining the importance of this match as a stepping stone towards their long-term goals, including the final round of the World Cup qualifiers.
Al Rayyan midfielder Nayef al-Hadrami echoed Lopez’s sentiments, noting the significance of the match for the newly selected players. The inexperience in Qatar squad might just provide Afghanistan with the opportunity to get the win they need to boost their hopes of advancing past the second round. Head coach Ashley Westwood will urge his players to believe in themselves in their bid to create history by advancing to the third round of the FIFA World Cup 2026 qualifiers and sealing a maiden appearance at the AFC Asian Cup.
Meanwhile, India and Afghanistan are on four points, with Kuwait one adrift.
India and Kuwait will be equally determined to take maximum points when they face off at the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan Stadium in Kolkata on Thursday.
India edged the reverse fixture 1-0 back in November and Igor Stimac’s side will be confident of another three points in what will be talismanic captain Sunil Chhetri’s final international match. Head coach Igor Stimac has described the tie as the most important match for India in three decades.
“India never could achieve the third round in the World Cup Qualifiers. Having the very opportunity to be in that position is an achievement by itself,” Stimac said to Indian media.
“Reaching there (Round 3) will be another step in Indian football history. It will be an amazing thing to have the opportunity to play another 10 games against the best Asian teams and dream big about trying to reach the biggest stage of football.”
Kuwait, however, will do their best to derail India’s dream with the West Asian side’s fate still very much in their own hands. With Afghanistan their opponents in the final Group A fixture, wins for Kuwait in their concluding matches will see them finishing second behind Qatar.
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