Kuala Lumpur: The Indian men’s football team has been drawn in Group A of the FIFA World Cup 2026 Preliminary Joint Qualification Round 2 alongside Qatar, Kuwait, and winners of the Round 1 match between Afghanistan and Mongolia, after the draw was conducted at the AFC House, here Thursday.
The 36 teams were drawn into nine groups of four, and they will compete against each team in a home-and-away round-robin format, between November 2023 and June 2024.
All nine group winners and the respective runners-up will advance to the third round of World Cup qualifying, and at the same time seal their places at the AFC Asian Cup Saudi Arabia 2027.
The other 18 teams from Round 2 will proceed directly to the third and final round of AFC Asian Cup qualifying.
The draw for the third round of the global showpiece in 2026 will be conducted in 2024, where the 18 teams will be divided into three groups of six; the top two from each group will qualify directly for the FIFA World Cup 2026.
The other two direct AFC entrants will be determined in the fourth round of World Cup qualifying, with one more possible berth available via an Intercontinental Playoff.
India have been in hot form in 2023, going on an 11-match unbeaten streak, spanning the Tri-Nation Cup, the Intercontinental Cup, and the SAFF Championship.
During the course of this treble-winning run, India have played Kuwait twice in the SAFF Championship, with both matches, in the group stage and the final, ending 1-1.
However, the Blue Tigers successfully converted the penalty shootout in the SAFF Final into a ninth sub-continental title in Bengaluru, earlier this month.
India have also been clubbed alongside Qatar in the previous edition of the World Cup Qualifiers, where they play out a 0-0 draw before losing 0-1.
Afghanistan and Mongolia, who are set to face each other in the Round 1 Qualifiers, have also played against India in recent times. The former were clubbed in Group D of the AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers, which were played in Kolkata last year; India won the match 2-1.
Meanwhile, Mongolia faced India in the Intercontinental Cup in Bhubaneswar earlier this year, with the Blue Tigers emerging 2-0 winners.
Group A: Qatar, India, Kuwait, Afghanistan/Mongolia
Group B: Japan, Syria, DPR Korea, Myanmar/Macau
Group C: Korea Republic, China PR, Thailand, Singapore/Guam
Group D: Oman, Kyrgyz Republic, Malaysia, Chinese Taipei/Timor-Leste
Group E: IR Iran, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Hong Kong, China/Bhutan
Group F: Iraq, Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia/Brunei Darussalam
Group G: Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Tajikistan, Cambodia/Pakistan
Group H: UAE, Bahrain, Yemen/Sri Lanka, Nepal/Laos
Group I: Australia, Palestine, Lebanon, Maldives/Bangladesh