Indian football team head coach Igor Stimac is optimistic about solidifying their second position in the World Cup qualifiers as they prepare to face Afghanistan once again on Tuesday. 

This match presents a crucial opportunity for India to make significant strides in both the FIFA World Cup 2026 and AFC Asian Cup Joint Qualification Round Two campaign. Following their recent draw against Afghanistan in Saudi Arabia, the Blue Tigers will be determined to secure a victory at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in Guwahati. 

Currently ranked second in their group, just behind leaders Qatar and ahead of Kuwait by one point. A win on Tuesday could potentially extend India's lead over Kuwait by three points, provided Qatar, the highest-ranked team in the group, emerges victorious in their upcoming game against Kuwait.. 

With the match against Afghanistan marking India's second-to-last home game of the second round, Stimac is hopeful that his team will clinch all three points and bolster their standing in the group before facing Kuwait in June.

“We are positive. We are looking forward to tomorrow’s game (on Tuesday) and we are going to try to do our best. A draw is the same as a loss for us. A draw or loss here will mean that we will need to beat Kuwait here in June. If we win the game, that means that a draw will be enough against Kuwait (to move to the third round). We will try to do our best to make it easy for ourselves in June but I promised already and told you already that we will take India together to the third round of the qualifiers,” Stimac stated in the pre-match press conference.  

India and Afghanistan are set to face off for the second time this month. In their previous encounter, Afghanistan, the lowest-ranked team in Group A, earned their first point of the World Cup qualifying campaign by holding India to a draw at their home venue in Saudi Arabia. 

While head coach Stimac expressed disappointment with the result, he views India's current second-place position in the group as a positive sign.

“We were disappointed with the end result against Afghanistan in the first game (in Saudi Arabia). Obviously, I couldn't be happy with the performance but realistically it's much difficult to expect our boys to shine after three days of work and such a long travel. I don’t blame anyone. We need to make things right here and that’s what we are going to try to do. How it’s going to work, we are going to see. We will do our best, definitely,” he expressed.  

He added: “What I say to my players is that nothing ends with tomorrow's game (on Tuesday) because we are in a really good position, holding the second spot in the group, which will take us to the third round of the qualifiers. Tomorrow’s result will change nothing about that. The final date will come in June against Kuwait, most probably, the game which will be played in Kolkata.”   

Afghanistan endured heavy defeats against Qatar (8-1) and Kuwait (4-0) in their initial two qualifier matches before facing India. Despite holding more possession and creating numerous chances, Ashley Westwood’s team frustrated India with resilient defending, both individually and collectively.

Stimac acknowledged Afghanistan's improvement following their early setbacks and emphasised the benefits of their extended training camp. Despite India being ranked 31 spots above Afghanistan in the current FIFA Rankings and being considered favourites for both matches this month, Stimac highlighted the importance of preparation and planning over rankings.

“You could clearly see in the first game (in Saudi Arabia) that the Afghanistan team was not the team which played against Qatar and Kuwait. That was a far better team (which we played against). They had a long camp in Abha. A three-week camp, prior to our game. They were working on the things, preparing the things and waiting for us there. That’s what a long camp can change in one team. Ranking means nothing, as I mentioned many times. You will remember how good we handled Australia for 60 minutes and then received one silly goal which opened the score and also made it easy for Australia. It’s a clear sign that rankings are not helping you on the pitch when you need to get the win,” Stimac said. 

India returns to Guwahati after a five-year hiatus, last hosting Oman in a World Cup qualifier game in 2019. Despite taking the lead, India suffered a narrow 2-1 defeat but showcased an impressive performance, consistently posing threats to the opposition and creating goal-scoring opportunities. The stadium witnessed a significant turnout of fans passionately supporting the team, a scene that head coach Stimac anticipates to be repeated in their upcoming game against Afghanistan.

“The boys that will come out tomorrow (on Tuesday) will do their best. I hope there will be a huge crowd here from this Assam state (and) from Guwahati. I remember how well we played against Oman here who are far better than Afghanistan, but it was a long time ago,” Stimac said.