The Indian football team will look to solidify their position in the second spot of Group A in the FIFA World Cup 2026 Qualifiers when they face Afghanistan at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in Guwahati on Tuesday.

The Blue Tigers are aiming to rebound after a disappointing draw against the Lions of Khorasan in their first-leg clash at the Damac Stadium in Saudi Arabia. Despite a solid start with a 1-0 win over Kuwait, India faced a setback with a 0-3 loss to Qatar in their second match back in November before their game against Afghanistan. 

Kuwait's recent defeat to Qatar propelled India to the second spot in the standings. The Blue Tigers are only behind Qatar in their group, who sit on top of the standings with a perfect record, having recorded three wins in as many games.  

A victory on Tuesday would bolster India's position, potentially bringing their tally to seven points. With Kuwait facing another tough challenge against Qatar on Wednesday, India has an opportunity to widen the gap in points. 

Meanwhile, Afghanistan, buoyed by their recent draw against India, will seek their first win in the qualifiers after heavy defeats in their opening matches to Qatar and Kuwait. However, securing a win against Afghanistan is vital for India's qualification hopes for the third round, a milestone yet to be achieved. Additionally, a spot in the top two of the group ensures automatic qualification for the 2027 AFC Asian Cup, adding further significance to the upcoming match.

FIFA Rankings

India: 117

Afghanistan: 158

India extended their winless streak to five games after being held to a draw against Afghanistan. Their last victory dates back to the World Cup qualifier opener against Kuwait in November. In the upcoming match, India will once again confront Afghanistan, who remain the lowest-ranked team in their qualifying group. A triumph for either side in this crucial encounter could notably enhance their rankings.

Form Guide

Afghanistan: DLLWW

Afghanistan have registered their first point in Group A but remains the sole winless team, currently occupying the bottom position in the table. Prior to their recent draw against India, they endured substantial losses against formidable opponents such as Qatar and Kuwait. Their last victory dates back to the first round of qualifiers against Mongolia. Drawing motivation from their recent stalemate against India, Afghanistan will be aiming to capitalise on more points in their upcoming clash in Guwahati.

India: DLLLL

Playing on their home turf, India will be eager to reverse their fortunes following a winless streak spanning their last five matches. This includes three group stage encounters at the AFC Asian Cup where they suffered defeats against Australia, Uzbekistan, and Syria. 

A significant concern for India has been their lacklustre attack, failing to find the back of the net in their past five fixtures. The last time the Blue Tigers scored was during their narrow 1-0 victory over Kuwait. Stimac will be hoping to see his team return to winning form, buoyed by the support of passionate fans and the advantage of playing at home.

Key Battles

Jabra Sharza vs Anwar Ali

Ali, who recently made his return to the Indian squad in the match against Afghanistan following his recovery from injury, will take charge of organising the Indian defence alongside Rahul Bheke. 

In the previous qualifier game, Ali displayed a solid defensive performance, contributing to India's build-up play while maintaining solidity at the back. He will once again face off against Jabra Sharza, who plays in the Swedish third-division.

Sharza came close to scoring against India with a powerful shot on target, only to be thwarted by goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu. The battle between Ali and Sharza promises to be intriguing, as both players excel in duels while being formidable aerially too.

Zohib Amiri vs Vikram Partap Singh

Singh will be keen to cause damage, having endured a tough game during India’s recent clash against Afghanistan. In the previous encounter in Saudi Arabia, Singh showcased glimpses of his potential, demonstrating his attacking prowess in the penalty area and creating opportunities for his teammates. 

The 22-year-old forward, who has been in fine goal-scoring form for Indian Super League (ISL) club Mumbai City FC, will be eager to replicate his success on the international stage. 

However, he faces a formidable challenge in Afghanistan's experienced central defender, Zohib Amiri. Alongside Shareef Muhammad, Amiri played a pivotal role in organising Afghanistan's defence, frustrating India's attacking efforts despite their creative play. As Singh, a promising youngster, goes head-to-head against the seasoned Amiri, the battle between the two promises to be captivating.

Match details

Fixture: India vs Afghanistan

Date: Tuesday, March 26

Venue: Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium, Guwahati, India

Time: 07:00 PM IST