Indian football has witnessed a rise in the past few years. India has recently entered the Top 100 of FIFA ranking and it has happened first time since 2018. Every football freak in the country dreams to watch the national team play in the World Cup. Meanwhile, fans have questions in their mind like how can India qualify for FIFA World Cup 2026? Did India qualify for FIFA World Cup 2026? How will India Qualify through AFC FIFA World Cup qualifiers? Here, you will find the answer to every question.
In 1950, three years after India gained independence, it was about to make history. During the same year, the fourth edition of the football World Cup was going to be held in Brazil. Sixteen countries were set to participate in the tournament, and India’s name was among those 16 countries. Interestingly, India did not have to qualify for the World Cup; it received a direct entry.
This happened because three Asian countries – Philippines, Indonesia, and Burma – withdrew from the World Cup, and as a result, India qualified by default. However, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) made a regrettable decision by declining to participate, citing financial constraints for traveling to Brazil. Instead, the Indian football team shifted its focus to prepare for the Olympics 1952, as at that time, the Olympics was considered the most significant tournament in Football.
Now, 73 years later, this decision is seen as one of the biggest blunders in Indian football history. From 1930 to 2022, 22 editions of the FIFA World Cup have been played, but India has not participated even once. However, Indian football fans have high hopes for the FIFA World Cup 2026 because India now has better chances to qualify. Due to the increasing popularity of football worldwide, FIFA has expanded the number of participating teams from 32 to 48 for the 2026 World Cup. In the 2022 World Cup, six Asian countries qualified, but in 2026, Asia have a minimum 8 and maximum 9 slots.
Did India Qualify for FIFA World Cup 2026?
No, India has not qualified for the FIFA World Cup 2026 yet. India has the opportunity to qualify for the marquee event through the AFC FIFA World Cup qualifiers, with their campaign commencing on 16th November 2023.
Will India Qualify for FIFA World Cup 2026?
The Indian football team definitely has the potential. The Indian team has improved chances of qualifying for the 2026 FIFA World Cup compared to the 2022 World Cup, as the number of participating teams has increased from 32 to 48.
How Can India Qualify for FIFA World Cup 2026
In the Asian teams’ qualifiers, India must progress from Round 2 to Round 3 and secure a top-two finish in Round 3 for direct qualification, but they also have the chance to qualify through Round 4 and Round 5.
AFC FIFA World Cup Qualifiers Explained
The Asian teams’ qualifiers will begin on October 12 2023 and continue until November 2025, with 46 Asian teams participating in the qualification process.
Let’s discuss the different rounds of qualification:
Round 1: The 46 Asian teams are divided into two groups. The first group consists of teams ranked from 1 to 26, who have already qualified for the second round. India, with an AFC ranking of 18, has qualified for the second round. The second group consists of teams ranked from 27 to 46, including teams like Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh. These 20 teams will compete in Round 1, with 10 teams advancing to Round 2.
Round 2: After Round 1, 36 teams will remain, divided into nine groups of four teams each. India is in Group A, alongside teams like Kuwait, Qatar, and Afghanistan. In this round, teams will play six matches each (home and away format). The top two teams from each group will progress to Round 3, making a total of 18 teams.
Round 3: The 18 teams from Round 2 will be divided into three groups of six teams each. The top two teams from each group will qualify directly for the FIFA World Cup 2026. Therefore, a total of six teams will make it to the World Cup after Round 3.
Round 4: The teams that finish 3rd and 4th in Round 3 groups will get another chance to qualify. Six teams will be divided into two groups of three teams each. The top two teams from these groups will secure the 7th and 8th Asian spots in the FIFA World Cup.
Additional Chance: The 9th Asian spot can be secured through a playoff between the teams that finish as runners-up in Round 4. The winner of this playoff will compete in the inter-confederation playoffs, facing teams from North America, Africa, South America, and Oceania. Ultimately, two teams from these playoffs will qualify for the FIFA World Cup 2026.
So, it is indeed possible for India to qualify for the FIFA World Cup 2026, but it will be a challenging journey, and their performance throughout the qualifiers will determine their fate.