Home game against Qatar group’s toughest: Stimac | Football News
How do you taste a rare away win, that too in a World Cup qualifier? A mile up in the sky working off the post-match adrenaline and hoping to get some sleep, said the Indian men’s football team. Hours after Thursday’s 1-0 win against Kuwait in Kuwait City through Manvir Singh’s 75th minute strike, the squad flew out and reached Ahmedabad via Dubai.
A win can carry a lot, including a few red-eye flights and sleeping through the day before flying to Bhubaneswar – which means traveling through four airports in less than a day – ahead of Tuesday’s game against the Asian champions Qatar in the World 2026. Cup qualifying cycle and Asian Cup 2027. “When you win games, it doesn’t feel so bad. When you lose, it starts to feel a bit heavy,” said Dawid Malan, looking back on England’s disappointing 50-year World Cup campaign.
The good thing is that injuries are not a concern in India, said Igor Stimac. The Indian head coach said that Tuesday’s game will be more difficult for his team in Group A which also has Afghanistan. “We are playing at home so we have to be smart and patient. We cannot be too conservative in our approach. In the away game against Qatar, we know we will have to defend deep,” Stimac told HT over the phone from Ahmedabad on Friday.
India’s Patience showed a lot against Kuwait. This is a sign that the team is becoming more mature, said Stimac. “There were no stupid fouls, silly passes, yellow cards.” With Ashique Kuruniyan, Jeakson Singh and Anwar Ali unavailable due to long-term injuries, this result made him proud and happy, he said.
“Kuwait are our strongest opponents for second place. To start with a win against them gives us a clear idea of what we have to do in the next games (to qualify for the third round).
India have never gone beyond the second round of World Cup qualifiers.
The plan for Thursday was to focus on the height of the players especially in the absence of Singh, Ali and Kuruniyan, Stimac said. “That is why Manvir started. The average fan would be right in calling Manvir off around the hour mark because, while his physicality was important, he wasn’t doing enough with the ball. But we knew what he was capable of,” said Stimac.
“I’m lucky to score in a big game like this. I am really looking forward to score more,” Manvir Singh told aiff.com.
Often used as a full-back by his club Mohun Bagan Super Giant, Manvir Singh scored with a clever, left-footed finish after running between two Kuwaiti players to meet Lallianzuala Chhangte’s assist from the left.
Chhangte replaced Mahesh Naorem in the 64th minute. “He (Mahesh) was brilliant defensively but we thought Chhangte could give us more with the ball. For wide players, we have options. Some can play inverted and cut in to use their stronger leg. Others can deliver good crosses. Chhangte can use both feet and has been used on the left at Mumbai City FC this term,” said Stimac.
It is positive that India kept a clean sheet and won without Sunil Chhetri being among the targets. It’s another thing that they could do it without Anirudh Thapa or Brandon Williams, who was out with a minor injury. The performance of Lalenmawia Ralte gives Stimac an option in the midfield position owned by Jeakson Singh and where he can also play Thapa. As is Rahul Bheke stepping in as Sandesh Jhingan’s partner in central defense in Ali’s absence.
It was India’s first away win in nine matches since the 2021 SAFF Championship final where they beat Nepal 3-0. One was very much enjoyed by the Indian diaspora, and it was well attended. “We’ve been touched by the love and respect we’ve received,” Stimac said.
After Qatar, who beat Afghanistan 8-1 on Thursday, India will play Afghanistan home and away on March 21 and 26. They will host Kuwait on June 6 and finish the group series against Qatar five days later. The top two teams from each of the nine second round groups will qualify for the third round of the 2027 Asian Cup qualifiers and finals. In the third round, the teams will be divided equally into three groups of six and the two best groups from each of the World Cup in the USA, Canada and Mexico.
Six runners-up teams will be divided into two groups of three in the fourth round with the group winners also qualifying for the 2026 finals. The second-placed teams in the fourth round will play each other to conclude the Asian qualifying cycle in November 2025. The winners will play in the 48-team Inter-Confederation play-offs for the World Cup where 8.5 Asia’s allocated share.
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