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India's road to Fifa World Cup 2026: All you need to know about qualifiers

India have been drawn in group A of the AFC FIFA World Cup 2026 qualifiers along with Qatar, Kuwait and the winner of the Round 1 clash between Afghanistan and Mongolia

Indian Football team drawn with Qatar and Kuwait in the AFC Fifa World Cup 2026 Qualifiers Round 2. Photo: Indian Football Team

Indian Football team drawn with Qatar and Kuwait in the AFC Fifa World Cup 2026 Qualifiers Round 2. Photo: Indian Football Team

Abhishek Singh New Delhi
The draws for the FIFA World Cup 2026 and AFC Asian Cup 2027 qualifiers are out. It has happened just a day after the Indian football team got the the relaxation from the Indian government to participate in the Asian Games 2023.

India have been placed in group A alongside defending Asian Cup winners and last FIFA World Cup hosts Qatar. Kuwait are the third team in the group for the second round of preliminary qualification. The fourth team would be confirmed after a first-round match between Afghanistan and Mongolia. The winner would take the fourth place in the group. 

What is Fifa World Cup 2026 qualifiers event?


Team participating in Fifa World Cup have to go through a rigorous qualification round. No team apart from the hosts are confirmed for a place in the Fifa World Cup. Each continent gets a fixed number of slots and only a limited number of teams qualify from that continent for the main event. 

Even the hosts take part in the qualification process as the World Cup qualification runs simultaneously with the continental championship qualification. The 2026 Fifa World Cup will be hosted by Canada, Mexico and USA jointly. Thus these are the only three teams that get direct entry in the football World Cup. 

For the first time, Fifa World Cup has been expanded from 32 teams to 48 for the 2026 edition. As a result, each constituent member of Fifa will get extra berths for the event in North America. Here’s a breakup of the number of berths allotted to each confederation for the Fifa World Cup 2026. 

Confederation No. of Fifa World Cup 2026  Berths
   
Asian Football Confederation (AFC) 8 Direct 1 Playoff
South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) 6 Direct 1 Playoff
Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) 3 to the hosts  3 Direct and 2 Playoff
Oceania Football Confederation  (OFC) 1 Direct and 1 Playoff
Confederation of African Football (CAF) 9 Direct and 1 Playoff
Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) 16 Direct

What is the format of the AFC Fifa World Cup 2026 and Asian Cup 2027 qualification?


From the AFC, eight teams will qualify directly for the World Cup, while one team will face off with teams from other continents in an inter-continental play-off tournament which will also work as a test event before the World Cup in 2026. The tournament will be played in one of the three host nations. 

The AFC Fifa World Cup 2026 and Asian Cup 2027 qualification has been divided into five rounds. 

First Round


Teams ranked 27-46 in AFC will face off against each other in two matches (one home and one away). Winners of these nine games will then join teams ranked from 1-27 in the second round.

Second Round


36 teams will be divided into nine groups of four each. In this round, one team will play the other three teams in the group twice in a home-away format. The top two teams at the end of all group matches will advance to the third round of the Fifa World Cup qualification and the final round of the Asian Cup 2027 qualification. Asian Cup is a 24-team event which will be hosted by Saudi Arabia. 

Third Round


Now the 18 teams which have moved to the third round and qualified for the final round of the Asian Cup, will be divided into three groups of six each. 

The top two teams from each of the three groups will qualify for the Fifa World Cup 2026. Among the remaining four teams from each group, the teams ranked third and fourth in each group will most likley move to the fourth round, although it has not been confirmed yet.   

Fourth Round


How things will pan out in the fourth round has yet not been revealed by AFC. But chances are that among the remaining 12 teams, the top six will be divided into two groups of three each and the group winners will get the remaining two places from AFC. 

The two runners-up from both the groups will face each other to determine the one team that will represent AFC in the Fifa World Cup 2026 Intercontinental Playoff tournament. 

How tough will be India’s road to the Fifa World Cup 2026?


India’s journey will begin from round two of the AFC qualifiers for the Fifa World Cup 2026 and Asian Cup 2027. India are pitted against Qatar, Kuwait and most probably Afghanistan. Looking at their current form, it can be assumed that the Blue Tigers will be able to defeat Kuwait and Afghanistan and move to the third round. India have lost only once to Afghanistan and have beaten Kuwait most recently. Igor Stimac's team is also ranked above Kuwait and Afghanistan. 

 

In the third round, the teams will again be drawn into the groups and draws for that would be taken out at a later stage. Considering that there are no upsets, the following teams will move to the third round. 

Group A- Qatar and India
Group B- Japan and Syria
Group C- South Korea and China
Group D- Oman and Kyrgyz Republic
Group E- Iran and Uzbekistan
Group F- Iraq and Vietnam
Group G- Saudi Arabia and Jordan
Group H- United Arab Emirates and Bahrain
Group I- Australia and Palestine

The road will get difficult from here on for the Blue Tigers as now they will be placed in a group which will have three teams better ranked than them. If they could not finish in the top two then they would have to be in the top four at least to keep their hopes alive for the next round of World Cup qualification. It will be tough but not impossible. 

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First Published: Jul 27 2023 | 5:44 PM IST

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