FIFA WC Qualifier: India win against Kuwait

India started their qualification campaign for the second round of the 2026 FIFA WC with a bang, securing a 1-0 win over Kuwait after a hard-fought match. Igor Stimac’s men were impressive throughout, as India ended a six-match winless run in regulation time thanks to Manvir Singh’s 75th-minute goal and a brilliant defensive effort.

As is often the case whenever India takes to the football pitch, the game provided plenty to ponder.

How big was the win FIFA WC?

The numbers reflect the significance of the win – it was India’s first overseas win in a FIFA WC qualifier in 22 years, although a win over Bangladesh in a 2022 FIFA WC qualifier was a non-win in Doha due to Covid restrictions. She came to a neutral position. India’s last away win in the FIFA WCQ was against Brunei in 2001 – perhaps India’s best-ever qualification campaign.

The side featured a young Mahesh Gawli in defense – last deployed for Stimac as national team manager a few months ago. Such a win is not common – and this Indian team deserves a lot of credit.

In terms of group implications, this win is crucial – Qatar are clear favorites to top the standings, as evidenced by their 8-1 thrashing of Afghanistan on Thursday.

The battle for second place (which will seal qualification for the 2027 AFC Asian Cup and progress to the third round of World Cup qualifiers) between 136th-ranked Kuwait and India (ranked 102nd in the world), Afghanistan (WR 154) is between an external condition.

An away win gives India the advantage and makes the two games against Qatar less relevant – with Afghanistan clearly beatable and a draw against Kuwait at home enough to progress.

FIFA WC Qualifier: India win against Kuwait

Defensive solidarity returns to FIFA WC

India’s last encounter was a sensational 2-4 defeat against Malaysia in the Merdeka Cup, where Stemic’s side was a mess at the back. Jackson Singh’s absence with a shoulder injury affected the side in transitions, with Jackson’s excellent understanding of his role in the rest of the defense (the defensive shape India had to stop transition) sorely missed.

Suresh Singh Wangjam is not as well-suited to the role in Stimac’s team as his style of play with Bengaluru FC (itself a transitional team) rarely finds him in a high-risk role where he has to counterattack. You have to be the first player.

Attack Lalingmavia Ralte, aka Apoya, was reportedly frozen out of the national set-up due to an apparent indiscipline problem, but Stemic’s hand may have been forced by Jackson’s injury.

The Mumbai City FC midfielder plays a similar role with his club and fits in with Suresh as the backbone of the midfield with ease – with Kuwait (a side that excels in transition with their threats) most of the time. Canceled for part.

With Rahul Bheke back in the line-up (as a better defender than the ball-playing Mehtab Singh), India shut out Kuwait with ease as their defensive balance was restored.

Jackson is still a miss, but with Apuya, Stimac can rely on his preferred style of play. This could change in India’s next game against Qatar as they will have less possession, but the options in midfield are now plentiful.

India’s art on the pitch at the FIFA WC

This has become a theme with this Indian side of late – their penchant for scoring goals with elegant team moves. And it was quite memorable against Kuwait, especially as they started from behind. Gurpreet Singh Sindhu stepped forward and moved it to Rahul Bheke at left-center back wide, which allowed Akash Mishra to bomb forward on the left touchline to spread the field.

A pinpoint pass from Bheke was duly delivered, and Mishra saw the run from Lalianzwala Chhangte behind the defense in the left channel and played a first-time pass into his path.

Change didn’t need to push forward and sent a low cross straight into the box, Manveer Singh arrived and flicked his marker into the net with a first-time finish.

Eight seconds from the moment the ball left Bheke’s boot, two brilliantly measured first-time passes, four touches of the ball, and India scored a goal that went the length of the pitch.

FIFA WC Qualifier: India win against Kuwait

It’s easy to forget that just a few years ago, Stemic began his era playing the long-ball-deflecting football that plagued Indian football for decades. Such goals indicate progress made, but they are also achievements to be applauded.

Stimac’s wealth of options reduced its request for more time

In an important FIFA WC qualifier, Stimac had the ability to bring on the reigning AIFF Player of the Year, Change, as a substitute. Despite injuries to some key players in the first XI, the level of the side never dropped and substitutes slotted in with ease.

Stimac has always maintained his need for long preparation camps before important games, with his argument gaining some justification in the poorly organized Asian Games campaign.

However, what often goes unnoticed is that Stimac now has a group of 15-16 players who understand his style and are becoming experienced internationals – who have come from club football.

Can easily switch to international football. Familiarity is what the Croatian wants on the pitch – and it’s not limited to the first XI.

Sunil Chhetri’s biggest contribution to the game was his run for goal. Mahesh Singh, India’s most consistent and creative player in recent times, has had a bit of an off day and his ability to switch tactics (running behind Changte vs Mahesh falling short) cannot be understated.

Apuya and Bheke anchor the defense, while the talents of Anirudh Thapa can also be brought to the fore. Manveer returned to a role that mirrored what was asked of Ashiq Kuronia (a physical runner/hold-up hybrid) and scored goals nonetheless.

These are players who can expect to make the AFC Asian Cup squad and are well aware of their role in the national set-up. They look like a fluid outfit, and while things may not look so good against Qatar on some days, there is enough quality and clarity in the squad to be able to cope with a short camp ahead of the Asian Cup in January.

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