FIFA World Cup Qualifiers, Kuwait vs India preview: Blue Tigers face stern away test
The Blue Tigers will look to begin their FIFA World Cup qualification campaign on a positive note in Kuwait.
Indian men’s football team will begin their quest for qualification to the 2026 FIFA World Cup as they take on Kuwait in the second round of FIFA World Cup qualification at the Jaber Al-Ahmad International Stadium in Kuwait City on Thursday.
India are placed in Group A alongside Asian champions Qatar, Kuwait and Afghanistan with the top two from the group progressing to the third round of the FIFA World Cup qualifiers. The top two teams from each group will also secure qualification for the 2027 AFC Asian Cup.
The Blue Tigers have never advanced to the third round of AFC’s FIFA World Cup qualifiers but a changed format coupled with their terrific form in 2023, gives Igor Stimac’s side a chance to create history. But a solid start to the campaign will be key given the close competition in Group A.
The Blue Tigers are the higher-ranked team in this fixture but Kuwait proved in the SAFF Championship that they can go toe-to-toe with India after the two sides played out two draws in the competition. Sunil Chhetri and Co prevailed over Kuwait in the final on penalties but will face a different kind of challenge with Kuwait enjoying the home advantage.
The clash is also crucial as Kuwait and India are set to be the prime candidates for bagging the second spot in the group as far as FIFA rankings are concerned with Qatar being big favourites to to finish on top of the table. Thus India’s games with Kuwait could go a long way in determining their destiny.
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 on penalties, Kuwait has secured two wins but also suffered two losses.
India’s excellent record in 2023 has somewhat been tarnished by recent defeats but Stimac’s side have won seven out of the 14 matches they have played this calendar year and have won three trophies in the process.
The Blue Tigers are winless in their last five matches but they emerged on the winning side in the penalty shootout in two of those three draws. India were unlucky to lose to Malaysia in their last match with key refereeing decisions going against them.
However, their form guide isn’t an indicator of the quality of football they have played this year and they are capable of causing Kuwait problems in their backyard.
Fahad Al-Hajeri vs Sunil Chhetri: The battle between the two captains will be a direct contest on the field as Al-Hajeri who has made 69 appearances for Kuwait will go head to head with Sunil Chhetri who has established himself as one of the icons in Asian football.
Chhetri who is only behind Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi in the list of top active international goalscorers is India’s man for the big occasion and has netted nine times in FIFA World Cup qualifiers in his career. Al-Hajeri’s job will be to keep Chhetri away from goal which can go a long way in keeping India off the scoresheet. The Kuwait skipper is also a clever centre-back who has plenty of experience under his belt and would be aware of the threat the India captain poses after their recent meetings.
Sultan Al-Enezi vs Sahal Abdul Samad: Al Enezi is the anchor in the Kuwait midfield and the man responsible for allowing the attacking players to work their magic. However, against India, his hands will be full having to deal with the threat of Sahal Abdul Samad who likes to float in between the defensive and midfield lines and link up the attacks.
Sahal has been in tremendous form in the ISL for Mohun Bagan Super Giant and has always stepped it up in the blue of India. Sahal possesses the ability to create something out of nothing and Al Enezi will have to bring all his qualities to the fore to keep the former Kerala Blasters FC midfielder quiet.
Shabaid Al-Khaldi vs Sandesh Jhingan: Al Khaldi has scored nine goals in 26 appearances for Kuwait and is their go-to man for goals in big matches. Playing in front of their home crowd, Al-Khaldi will be itching to make a mark on the big stage.
But he will be up against another player who relishes the big occasion in Sandesh Jhingan. He has been a rock in the Indian defence for a good part of the last decade and continues to be the leader of the pack. His ability on the ground and in the air makes him an able defender that India will need to be at his best in Kuwait on Thursday, especially with Al-Khaldi lurking around.
Fixture: Kuwait vs India
Date: November 16
Time: 10:00 PM IST
Venue: Jaber al-Ahmad International Stadium, Kuwait