FIFA World Cup qualifiers | India looks to beat Kuwait to brighten third round chances

FOOTBALL | Captain Sunil Chhetri’s last outing for the host adds lustre to the contest as the Blue Tigers are all pumped up to give him a fitting farewell

Published - June 05, 2024 09:13 pm IST - KOLKATA

Indian football team captain Sunil Chhetri along with teammates during a warm-up session on the eve of the FIFA qualifier match against Kuwait at the Yuva Bharati Krirangan in Kolkata  on Tuesday.

Indian football team captain Sunil Chhetri along with teammates during a warm-up session on the eve of the FIFA qualifier match against Kuwait at the Yuva Bharati Krirangan in Kolkata on Tuesday. | Photo Credit: R.V. MOORTHY

June 6 could well be one of the most significant dates in the history of Indian football if the senior men’s National team is able to secure a win against the visiting national team of Kuwait.

A successful result at the Salt Lake Stadium here on Thursday would mean that India will greatly improve its chances of making it to the third (and the decisive) round of the 2026 FIFA World Cup qualification process.

Indian head coach Igor Stimac hoped that his players would rise to the occasion and produce the intended result. “The match against Kuwait is the most important outing for the National team in three decades. India never could reach the third round in the World Cup Qualifiers. Having the very opportunity to be in that position is an achievement by itself,” Stimac said while trying to specify the importance of the match.

India is currently second with four points after four rounds of action in the Group-A league of the round two qualification stage.

With the top two from each group making it to the third round, a win is necessary for India to keep its position in the group standings and realise its dream. Qatar is at the top with 12 points after winning all its matches so far while India, Afghanistan (four points) and Kuwait (three) jostle for the second spot.

The match gains greater importance following the decision of Indian captain Sunil Chhetri to make this his final appearance for the national team. A crowd of over 60,000 is expected to cheer for the iconic player as he ends his international career while playing his 151st match for the country.

Greater sense of purpose

This seems to have brought in a greater sense of purpose in the dressing room as each member is looking to bring out his best in honour of the departing captain.

There will be a few absentees in the team — like Sandesh Jhingan in defence, Vikram Pratap Singh in attack and Apuia in the midfield — owing to suspension and injuries but Stimac said he was hopeful of finding adequate replacements.

With India having completed a three-week preparatory camp in Bhubaneswar, the head coach hoped that the players will show the right mentality to repeat the win his team had managed against the same opponent while visiting Kuwait City in the first round in November last year.

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