The India national football team started their FIFA World Cup 2026 qualifiers second round campaign by beating Kuwait in their opening fixture.

Currently placed 102nd in the men’s FIFA rankings, India beat Kuwait 1-0 in their first match of the ongoing FIFA World Cup 2026 AFC qualifiers at the Jaber Al-Ahmad International Stadium on November 16.

Forward Manvir Singh netted the match-winning goal in the 75th minute to help India register their first victory in the FIFA World Cup qualifier overseas in 22 years. 

The Sunil Chhetri-led India are placed in Group A of FIFA World Cup 2026 Asian qualifiers second round alongside Kuwait, Qatar and Afghanistan.

Under head coach Igor Stimac, India are later scheduled to face reigning AFC Asian Cup champions Qatar in Bhubaneswar on November 21.

The Blue Tigers will lock horns with Afghanistan on March 21, 2024, before hosting the same opposition five days later on March 26.

India will later host Kuwait on June 6 and conclude their second round qualifying campaign against hosts Qatar on June 11.

 Meanwhile, the FIFA World Cup 2026 will be expanded from 32 to 48 teams to be held in three North American countries: Canada, Mexico, and the United States.

With the expansion of 16 teams in the upcoming FIFA World Cup, it gives India a perfect opportunity to qualify for the first time in the quadrennial event.

For Asian Football Confederation (AFC), FIFA has allocated eight direct slots in the FIFA World Cup 2026 and another possible slot that will be decided through an inter-confederation playoff.

Previously, Asia only had four direct spots and another possible spot through an inter-confederation play-off.

As per the FIFA World Cup 2026 format, there will be five rounds of qualification for Asian countries into the main tournament.

From a total of 46 teams, eight direct qualifying slots will be determined through the first four rounds while the winner of the fifth round will advance to the inter-confederation play-off. Know how India can qualify for the FIFA World Cup 2026.

How can India qualify for FIFA World Cup 2026?

India can qualify for FIFA World Cup 2026 if they finish in the top two of the second and third rounds of the AFC qualifiers to secure a spot in the FIFA World Cup 2026.

A total of 18 teams will advance from the second round to the third round. These 18 teams include nine group winners and just as many runners-up. 

The 18 teams in the third round will be divided into three groups of six teams each. The teams will square off against each other on a home-and-away basis.

The top two teams from each group will directly qualify for the FIFA World Cup while the third and fourth-placed teams will move to the fourth round.

If India manages a top-two finish in the second round but fails to make it in the top two in the third round, the Blue Tigers will have to be group toppers in the fourth round to seal a spot in FIFA World Cup 2026.

In the fourth round, as many as six third and fourth-placed teams from the third round will be split into two groups of three teams each. The teams will face each other once in a neutral venue. 

The winners of each group in the fourth round will advance to the FIFA World Cup while the runners-up will play in the fifth round.

In case, India fails to make the cut in the fourth round, then they have to win their fifth round match to qualify for the inter-confederation play-off. A win in the play-off will seal a spot in the FIFA World Cup 2026.

Photo credit: Alamy