The Indian national football team kickstarted their FIFA World Cup 2026 Qualifiers with a narrow 1-0 win over Kuwait in Kuwait City back in November 2023, following it up with a 3-0 defeat to Qatar in Bhubaneswar. With a win and a loss registered to their name, the Blue Tigers stand third in Group A in the second round of the qualifiers with three points in two matches, the same as second-placed Kuwait, who hold a better goal difference.

The Igor Stimac-coached side will face Afghanistan twice in succession, on March 22 and March 26, in Abha, Saudi Arabia and Guwahati, India, respectively. With a spot in the FIFA World Cup 2026 and AFC Asian Cup 2027 up for grabs, the Blue Tigers will look for a positive result in both fixtures in March to give them a much-needed boost.

With only four days left for the first crucial encounter, the head coach is optimistic about their chances of qualification into the next round.

We will go there to try and win the game. We are not looking at any massive calculations right now. Once we all get there, we will start talking about how to win the game from the very first second,” stated Stimac when speaking to AIFF Media. 

The Blue Tigers will look for a turnaround to move on from their disappointing AFC Asian Cup Qatar 2023 campaign where they failed to register a point and even a goal, with losses against Australia, Uzbekistan, and Syria. 

The India head coach has his priorities in place, however, stating that making it to the third round of the World Cup Qualifiers for the first time is the biggest aim for his side right now.

“We are not a club that can work with the players on a daily basis. If you speak about the Asian Cup, it was of course a disappointment, but mostly for those who were not following us regularly. The expectations were high without any base,” he shared. 

He added, “That’s behind us, and I’m happy that we have more important things to do now. The focus is on getting from the second phase to the third phase of qualifying.”

The top two teams from each group will progress through to the third round of the World Cup Qualifiers and will also get directly qualified for the AFC Asian Cup 2027. With Kuwait and Qatar (current group leaders with six points) as their toughest competitors for a top-two finish, India will look to create history making it through to the third round for the first time in their history. 

Speaking on the two crucial encounters against Afghanistan up ahead, which will heavily determine India’s chances of qualifying, the Croatian tactician shared, “Afghanistan did everything to make it difficult for us, which was expected. Choosing Abha as their home venue at 2,270 meters altitude was a clever decision. Playing there requires great endurance.”

“Whatever the case may be, we are going there with a clear mindset, and we’re looking for the points,” he added. 

Commenting on the form of the selected players, the 56-year-old said, “Most of our boys are in decent form at their clubs, and hopefully we can overcome all difficulties and find a way to manage the game in a positive way.”

“They (the Indian football team players) all have the same dream, so we don’t need to inject any motivation into them. We have never made it to Round 3 before, and if we do that, it will then give them new dreams, to qualify for the World Cup in the future,” he wrapped up.