India begin their journey in another qualifying cycle of the 2026 World Cup and the 2027 Asian Cup with an away game against Kuwait at Kuwait City’s Jaber Al-Ahmed stadium on Thursday. At 136, the opponents may be 134 places below India and had beaten them earlier in the year but head coach Igor Stimac said neither would have any bearing on this game.
“This match has nothing to do with the games we played because a lot of things have changed since then,” said Stimac at the pre-match press conference on Wednesday, according to an AIFF media release.
“The players had a long rest and started the season with their clubs. India and Kuwait are not the same sides, we both have had a few injured players. But that’s normal in football. Teams change from month to month.”
India go into the game with six training sessions which Stimac has always said is inadequate for international games. Kuwait, according to a team official, is a better team than the one that lost the SAFF Championship final on penalties; Gurpreet Singh Sandhu saving Kuwait captain Khaled Hajiah’s shot from the spot.
“The difference between that team and this is the bench. Kuwait have added some players who can ensure that the energy does not dip after the hour mark,” said the official over the phone from Kuwait City. The official requested anonymity as he is not authorised to speak to the media.
Without adequate time to train, a dip in intensity in the final quarter could be a worry for India. To that end, a draw may not be a bad start to the campaign where Indi host Asian champions Qatar next, in Bhubaneswar on November 21.
The official said India could start with Manvir Singh instead of Lallianzuala Chhangte. “Against a team that has a number of taller players, it may not be prudent to start with Chhangte,” said the official. “It would have been different if we had Ashique Kuruniyan and Jeakson Singh.” Both are out with long-term injuries.
India may also start with Anirudh Thapa on the bench because he has played most of the games for Mohun Bagan Super Giant in the Indian Super League and AFC Cup. It is possible Stimac will pair Lalengmawia Ralte and Suresh Wangjam in central midfield.
Mahesh Naorem is likely to start on the left opposite to Singh with Sahal Abdul Samad in the middle of the three frontline players behind lone striker and skipper Sunil Chhetri. Nikhil Poojary and Akash Mishra are likely to be the full backs and their sorties down the flanks will be even more crucial if India cannot use Chhangte’s speed. Sandesh Jhingan should be anchoring the backline with either Mehtab Singh or Rahul Bheke.
India have played 14 games this year and won three tournaments but go into this competition with three successive defeats, two of them in the King’s Cup and one in the Merdeka tournament. Since losing the SAFF Championship final, Kuwait have beaten Bahrain and Syria, both ranked higher, in friendlies.
Kuwait have played the World Cup finals in 1982. India have never made the final round of the Asian qualifiers in nine previous attempts.