Our plan is to secure the second spot and qualify: India's Igor Stimac
Indian football team head coach discusses his side's chances ahead of their FIFA World Cup 2026 and AFC Asian Cup 2027 Preliminary Joint Qualification campaign.
Indian football team head coach Igor Stimac is targeting a second-place finish in their FIFA World Cup 2026 Qualifiers group with their campaign set to kick off this month.
India has been placed in a tough group consisting of Qatar, Kuwait, and South Asian neighbours Afghanistan, who beat Mongolia to book their place in the second round of the qualifiers. India will play Kuwait in an away clash in their opening game of the Qualifiers followed by a clash against Qatar at home, with both matches set to be played in November.
Analysing the group, Stimac expects a tough challenge from all three teams but believes his side has a good chance of securing the second spot in the qualifiers and qualifying for the next round.
“The group is very tough and challenging because we know there will be no easy opponents, and they are the top teams. So, apart from that, from the third pot, we got by far the best opponents available (Kuwait). So, the group is tough at the moment, but we need to approach it game by game and prepare for it,” Stimac said in an interview with the-aiff.com.
“And as far as I'm concerned and with my experience in football, November to March will be difficult. To prepare well and to make sure that the national team gets enough time to secure the second spot in the group and qualify - that is our plan,” he further said.
Earlier this month, Stimac announced a 28-man probable list for the two matches against Kuwait and Qatar, including notable absentees such as Anwar Ali, Jeakson Singh, and Ashique Kuruniyan - all nursing injuries.
The trio were part of the squad that helped India win the Intercontinental Cup and the SAFF Championship. Stimac acknowledged their absence was a significant blow for the team and said the focus for him was ensuring the correct balance to the team.
“The focus at the moment is how to replace those boys who were starting 11 players, such as Ashique Kuruniyan, Anwar Ali, and Jeakson Singh. They were our strength in the latest successes we had. These boys played very good football; they were adding extra value to the whole team,” Stimac revealed.
“We need to find a way to make a new composition to balance the team, which will provide strength, especially at the back because we started conceding some goals, which I did not like lately, although some of the goals came after very poor refereeing decisions. That's our priority now, but anyway, I'm glad to see that the boys are playing regularly in ISL, and most of them are taking main roles in their teams and playing with lots of responsibility. It is a good and positive thing for the national team,” he said.
India, under Stimac, endured a tough campaign during the previous qualifiers as they struggled to qualify for the third round. India finished third in their group consisting of Qatar, Oman, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan after just one win from their eight games while losing three and drawing four of them.
Qatar, once again, is the highest-ranked team in India’s group and will pose a daunting challenge for the Blue Tigers. Kuwait will also be a tough clash, with the Gulf nation holding India twice to a draw during the SAFF Championships. Afghanistan, on the other hand, will be no pushovers despite being the lowest-ranked team in the group. They will take confidence from the fact that they held India to two draws during their previous qualifier campaign.
Stimac said there will be difficulties regardless of the opponents India will face but said they won't change their approach and enter each game with the intention of winning it.
“I'm always confident. I have to be confident because that's the only way for the coach to lead the team. Never mind the difficulties. But I'm also realistic. I need to point out the challenges and worries which are there. Everyone needs to be well aware of what kind of difficulties we're going to face. So that's the best way of approaching the game, just being realistic but positive, always positive,” he expressed.
He added: "So as far as I'm concerned, we're going to go all out with the intention to win the game. Is that going to happen? We don't know. But the intention will be there. Definitely. And the same thing will happen against Qatar. We are going to try to find a way to win against Qatar at home. As simple as that.”