Road to 2026 FIFA Men’s World Cup: India

Indian Men’s football team had a couple of promising results in the recent months. They won SAFF Championship and Intercontinental Cup. As a result of these positive performances, India has climbed to rank 99 in Men’s FIFA World Ranking. The Road to 2026 FIFA Men’s World Cup is about to start. Let us have a look at how India’s qualification pathway will work..

2026 FIFA Men’s World Cup

Venue: Mexico, United States and Canada
When: June-July 2026
Number of teams competiting: 48 (Teams have been increased from 32 to 48 from 2026 edition of the World Cup)

Pic Courtesy: Wikipedia

There are 8 direct qualification spots available for AFC and 1 play-off spot. So, a maximum of 9 AFC Nations can qualify for 2026 FIFA World Cup.

India’s Qualification Pathway: AFC Qualification

There will be a total of 5 rounds to determine teams who have qualified for FIFA World Cup. A total of 46 teams will be competing in AFC qualification.

First Round: Top 26 ranked teams in AFC will get a bye in this round. India is currently ranked 18 in AFC ranking and hence will join the competition in round 2. In Round 1, 20 teams ranked 27-46 will be drawn in home and away fixtures. The ten winners advance to Second Round.

Second Round: 36 teams (26 teams who had bye in Round 1 plus ten Winners of Round 1) are drawn in 9 groups of 4. India has been drawn in Group A with Qatar, Kuwait and winner of Afghanistan/Mongolia tie. The winners and runner-ups of each group qualify for third round of qualification. These 18 teams will also automatcally qualify for AFC Asia Cup 2027.

Team India’s Schedule for Second Round:

16 Nov 23: Kuwait v India
21 Nov 23: India v Qatar
21 Mar 24: Afghanistan/Mongolia v India
26 Mar 24: India v Afghanistan/Mongolia
6 Jun 24: India v Kuwait
11 Jun 24: Qatar v India

Current ranking of teams in Group A: Qatar (59), India (99), Kuwait (137), Aghanistan (157)/Mongolia (183)

Third Round: 18 teams who progress from Round 2 will be drawn in 3 groups of 6 teams. The teams will play each other in a home and away format. Top 2 teams from each group qualify for FIFA World Cup whereas teams ranked 3rd and 4th in each group progress to Round 4.

Fourth Round: 6 teams who have progressed to Round 4 will be divided into 2 groups of 3 teams each. The teams will play aagainst each other once at a neutral venue. Group winners qualify for FIFA World Cup. 2nd placed teams in each group will qualify for fifth round.

Fifth Round: The 2 teams in Round 5 will play each other in a home and away tie. The winner will then go into the inter-confederation play-off. Winner of the inter-confederation play-off matches will qualify for FIFA World Cup.

For India’s qualification chance, getting through from Round 2 is pivotal. Once they reach Round 3, then depending on how draws go, India can have a chance to compete at 2026 FIFA World Cup.

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