A young Qatar side came from behind to beat India 2-1 in their joint qualification match for the FIFA World Cup 2026 and AFC Asian Cup 2027 at the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium in Doha on Tuesday. But it was Qatar’s controversial equaliser which was the talking point as the defeat for India ended their hopes of advancing to the third round of the World Cup 2026 qualifiers.
India had taken the lead through Lallianzuala Chhangte in the 37th minute and looked set for a famous win against Asian Champions Qatar, who had already sealed their passage. However, in the 73rd minute, Abdullah al-Ahrak’s free-kick saw Yousef Aymen attempt a header, which was saved by India. But as goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu lied down, seeing the ball roll out of play, Hashmi Hussein kicked it into play with Aymen slotting it into the net.
The Indian players had completely stopped playing, since the ball had visibly the ball trickled out of play. But South Korean referee Kim Woo-Sung awarded the goal after consulting his assistant much to the disappointment of Indian players, who protested in vain.
Multiple replays showed the ball had clearly gone out of play, but in the absence of Virtual Assistant Referee (VAR) the goal stood as India became a victim of some terrible refereeing. Ahmed al-Rawi then struck the winner for Qatar in the 85th minute as India finished third behind Kuwait, who edged Afghanistan 1-0 in another Group A game thanks to a late goal from Eid al-Rashedi.
India’s coach Igor Stimac blasted match officials for the wrong decision, claiming ‘injustice was done to his boys’. The Croatian said: “It is an injustice to my boys tonight. I mean, they equalised with that. My boys did everything that they could. I’d say Qatar team was a bit more lucky today.
Stimac added: “I’m not blaming it all on FIFA. I’m just saying things like these just shouldn’t happen. If it happened to Qatar, I would also speak about it. We wish the video technology was available to confirm the authenticity of the equaliser. It is an injustice to my boys tonight.”
Qatar coach Marquez Lopez was pleased to end his team’s campaign with a victory and unbeaten. “We did well in the second half to win the match. We were aiming for a win against India and I am happy that we achieved it and came out of the stage without a loss, which we deserved,” he said.
“The team gained a lot from the last two matches also including a game against Afghanistan as we tested youngsters who will be with us in the third round of World Cup qualifiers,” said Lopez.
Qatar tried to seize the momentum early and were denied a dream start by Indian captain Sandhu, who fisted over a blinder to keep out Alhasmi Mohialdin’s tap off a Hazem Shehata corner in the second minute.
India survived another scare in the 11th minute – Qatar failing to capitalise on a good build-up down the right. Mohamed Khaled Gouda feinted past Indian defender Jay Gupta, entered the 18-yard box to lay it for al-Rawi who was eventually denied as Mehtab Singh came in from nowhere to put his body in between to defy Qatar player’s push. Al-Rawi was again in the thick of the action in the 17th minute but he failed to make the most of it – his diagonal shot missing the target after Ahmed al-Hanehi had snatched it from Jeakson Singh in the midfield.
Having survived the initial onslaught, India regrouped and for the next 10 minutes, they pushed Qatar on the backfoot by pressing high, and hard. The first attempt to make an impact came in the 20th minute but Qatar goalkeeper Shehab Ellethy was fast to react, clearing the danger even after Jay Gupta had outrun his marker in a desperate attempt to reach the ball.
India’s best chance fell in the 30th minute but Manvir Singh – despite having reacted faster to get past Hazem Shehata – couldn’t place it past goalkeeper Ellethy. Off the rebound, the Qatar defence recovered to deny Chhangte from burying it into the net.
However, the momentum drew dividends for India – the Blue Tigers drawing first blood in the 37th minute. Chhangte sneaked in between the goalkeeper and the defence line to tap in Brandon’s grounder. Qatar tried to make amends the very next minute but Gurpreet dived full length to palm al-Rawi’s grounder.
Qatar made three changes at the start of the second half – goalkeeper Shehab Ellethy being replaced by Ali Nader, Homam Ahmed coming on for Hazem Shehata and Khaled Ali brought in for Ahmed al-Ganehi. Seeking the equaliser, Qatar launched a barrage of attacks but had to wait till the 73rd minute to draw level, after Ayman’s controversial act by pushing the ball home from close following Hashmi al-Hussain’s free-kick. A lapse in concentration cost India the match in the 85th minute, al-Rawi burying his right footer past Gurpreet to snatch the win for Qatar.