3 reasons why India lost to Qatar in the FIFA World Cup 2026 Qualifiers 

Indian football
Qatar beat India 2-1 to end their FIFA World Cup dreams. (Image Credits: AIFF Media)

A wave of devastation swept through the Indian football fraternity on Tuesday, June 11, as India suffered a controversial 2-1 defeat to Qatar, which ultimately sealed their elimination from the FIFA World Cup 2026 qualifiers.

The Blue Tigers arrived in Doha for a do-or-die match and started strongly, with Lallianzuala Chhangte scoring the opening goal late in the first half. However, Qatar, fielding mostly their under-23 team, bounced back in the second half, with their equalizer mired in controversy.

Gurpreet Singh Sandhu parried away Hussain’s header from a set-piece, and the ball appeared to go out of play. The Indian players paused, expecting a stoppage, but Hussain managed to poke the ball back to Yousef Ayman, who scored a simple tap-in. Replays clearly showed the ball had gone out, but the referee missed it, and the goal stood despite the protests.

Qatar then provided the hammer blow to India’s hopes with five minutes of regulation time remaining when Ahmed Al-Rawi put the game to bed with a stunning strike from just outside the box. Meanwhile, Kuwait scored a late goal against Afghanistan to qualify alongside Qatar at India’s expense.

The referee’s decision arguably cost India a spot in the third round of qualifiers, as it shifted the game’s momentum. However, the Blue Tigers also have themselves to blame, as their performance against an inexperienced Qatar side was not particularly the best.

On that note, here are three reasons why India lost to Qatar in this decisive game (aside from the refereeing error).

#1 Failure to be clinical in front of goal

India’s struggles in the final third continued to haunt them. After a slow start, they began to find their rhythm, putting Qatar on the back foot with a high-pressing approach and quick passing combinations. It was arguably the best spell from Igor Stimac’s men this calendar year, but they failed to capitalize on it.

Several half-chances fell to Rahim Ali, Manvir Singh, and Brandon Fernandes, but they lacked the necessary composure to take the ball under control and make the right decision. Manvir came closest to opening the scoring when he poked the ball from Qatar’s center-back, but he took too many touches while his attempt to lob the keeper failed as well.

India’s persistence eventually paid off with a well-executed move that saw Fernandes assist Chhangte for the opening goal. However, they continued to squander opportunities in the second half.

Ultimately, despite a solid performance for much of the game, the difference came down to Qatar’s composure in the final third compared to India’s lack thereof, which is indeed a recurring issue in recent times.

#2 Retreating too early

Stimac’s decision to start with a back-five formation, featuring high and wide wing-backs, appeared to pay off. This setup also allowed Chhangte and Fernandes the freedom to drift into midfield while providing defensive solidity with three center-backs.

Their high-intensity pressing approach was particularly effective towards the end of the first half, as it forced turnovers that led to numerous half-chances. However, after scoring their first goal, India’s intensity and attacking mindset seemed to wane.

Instead of pushing to double their lead, the Blue Tigers appeared to shift to a more defensive approach, allowing Qatar more possession and the time and space to pick out passes. While India defended resolutely and were undone by a controversial goal, the root of the problem was their decision to sit back, invite pressure, and rely on counterattacks.

The second-half performance was a shadow of their first-half display, as India very created few chances. This certainly allowed the hosts to capitalize on their opportunities and ultimately take control of the game.

#3 Poor substitutions

Igor Stimac’s decision to start both Brandon Fernandes and Rahim Ali undoubtedly paid off. Fernandes’ creative spark and ability in tight spaces were crucial for India in the final third, while Ali’s runs into the channels and high-energy pressing ensured India always had an attacking outlet.

However, Stimac replaced both players around the hour mark, bringing in Sahal Abdul Samad and Liston Colaco. While substituting Brandon was understandable due to his yellow card, the decision to take off Ali, who was a reliable outlet on the break, was questionable.

Without Ali, India suddenly lacked a presence upfront and lost several duels when the ball was played forward. This allowed Qatar to regain possession and build momentum, ultimately shifting control of the game in their favor.

Moreover, Stimac could have introduced Nandhakumar Sekar, Vikram Pratap Singh, and Edmund Lalrindika earlier, as the midfield and forward line were starting to tire. The two substitutes, Sahal and Colaco, also failed to make a significant impact, which further showed that Stimac’s timing of the substitutions didn’t work out.

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Edited by Sudeshna Banerjee
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