FIFA World Cup Qualifiers, know your opponents: Kuwait football team
As India gear up for the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers, let's take a closer look at their upcoming opponent, Kuwait.
Note: The article contained an incorrect piece of information which has been duly corrected and the article has been updated.
The Indian national football team is set to return to action on Thursday after their disappointing campaigns in the King’s Cup and Merdeka Cup as they face Kuwait in the opening match of the FIFA World Cup 2026 Qualifiers Second Round at the Jaber al-Ahmad International Stadium in Kuwait.
Unlike India, Kuwait is coming into this game on the back of a 2-1 win over Syria and a hard-fought 1-0 defeat against the UAE. This will be the third meeting of the two sides in this calendar year, with the previous two games ending in draws, the latest being played in the SAFF Championship final won by India on penalty shoot-outs.
As the two teams find themselves in the same qualifying group, Kuwait will undoubtedly aim to outperform the Blue Tigers this time. With that in mind, let's delve into a closer examination of their national team.
Known as the Blue Wave, Kuwait played their first international match in the 1961 Pan Arab Games against Libya, which ended in a 2-2 draw. Managed by the Kuwait Football Association, the Kuwait national football team was one of the formidable forces in Asian football from the 1970s to the 2000s. Kuwait reached the final of the AFC Asian Cup in 1976 and won the tournament in 1980. They even qualified for the FIFA World Cup once, back in 1982, and secured one point from the group stage. Kuwait achieved their historic FIFA ranking of 24th in 1998 during their golden generation. Their biggest win came against Bhutan when they dismantled the opponents by a huge margin of 20-0.
However, the strength of Kuwait slowly faded away in the 2010s due to multiple bans by FIFA and instability. They failed to secure qualification for the Asian Cup in 2011 and 2015, before being disqualified for the 2019 edition. They also fell short of the 2023 AFC Asian Cup qualification.
Presently, Kuwait are in the midst of a revival period and has demonstrated promising performances, reflected by their climb in the FIFA rankings from a low of 189 in 2017 to its current position at 136.
The Kuwait national football team has showcased resilience and impressive performances in their recent outings. In the 15 matches played this year, they emerged victorious in nine, drew three, and faced three defeats. It's worth noting that two of these losses occurred in their last three matches. Since their defeat to India in the SAFF Championship final, Kuwait has secured two wins but also suffered two losses.
The two sides have clashed on five occasions previously, with two of their meetings taking place this year. Currently, Kuwait holds the upper hand in the head-to-head battle, securing two victories, while India has notched one win. The other two encounters concluded in draws, with India emerging victorious in the penalty shootout during the final of the SAFF Championship after the game was tied at 1-1 at the end of regulation time.
Forward Al-Khalidi undeniably poses the most significant threat to the Blue Tigers' defence. Since making his debut against Chinese Taipei during the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers, he has made an immediate impact on the national side with his goal-scoring prowess.
The 25-year-old opened his goal account in his debut match and has since netted nine goals for Kuwait. Notably, Al-Khaldi scored both of their goals in the recent 2-1 win against Syria. Additionally, he found the back of the net with the opening goal for Kuwait in the SAFF Championship final, before Lallianzuala Chhangte levelled the score, leading the game into a penalty shootout.
Fahad Al Hajeri
Captain Al Hajeri stands out as one of the most reliable players in Kuwait's defence, holding a crucial role as a dependable centre-back and serving as an influential figure in the team's recent successes. In addition to his defensive duties, he is recognized for posing a threat during attacking set-pieces. The towering 6ft 1inch defender has notched five goals to his name. The anticipated battle between the centre-back and Indian captain Sunil Chhetri promises to be a treat to watch once again.
Fixture: Kuwait vs India
Date: November 16
Time: 10:00 PM IST
Venue: Jaber al-Ahmad International Stadium, Kuwait