Can India still qualify for the 3rd round of FIFA World Cup 2026 Qualifiers after goalless draw against Kuwait?

India played out a 0-0 draw against Kuwait on June 6.
India played out a 0-0 draw against Kuwait on June 6. (PIC: AIFF Media)

Sunil Chhetri's final match in the national colors, the unprecedented opportunity of qualifying for the third round of FIFA World Cup 2026 Qualifiers, and a jam-packed Salt Lake Stadium roaring them on - the narratives penned down promised a gala. But hastiness in the final third and some shoddy passing in the middle of the park meant the Blue Tigers could only conjure a 0-0 draw against Kuwait on Thursday, June 6.

Even with disappointing results - a 3-0 drubbing at the hands of Qatar, and then a draw and an unexpected defeat against Afghanistan - accumulating, maybe the expectations in hindsight were a little far-fetched. But one could expect the team to turn up for 90 minutes to deliver a fitting farewell for their skipper.

Right from the initial minutes, however, India's performance seemed disjointed. They breathed a sigh of relief in the fourth minute when Mohammad Abdulah's effort kissed the shin of an on-rushing Gurpreet Singh Sandhu and slammed into the side netting. As the minutes rolled on, the Igor Stimac-coached outfit grew into the match, but their play in the final third seemed hasty, decision-making questionable.

Except for a few half-chances, and a gilt-edge opportunity squandered by Rahim Ali in the second half, there wasn't much to show for the Blue Tigers. Kuwait ensured they maintained their defensive shape and didn't allow the opposition to catch them on the break.

As the final whistle echoed around the stadium, despair consumed the players as they sank to the pitch. Chhetri, teary-eyed, soaked in the overflowing adulation but a sense of defeat was evident in his gait.

Understanding all the possible scenarios for India to qualify for the third round

After five rounds of matches, India sit second in the standings with five points, only behind rampant Qatar. Afghanistan are level on points but trail due to poor goal difference. Kuwait are a point behind in fourth but still have a shot at making it through to the next rounds. While the standings show the Blue Tigers have an edge, the reading is slightly skewed.

To simplify the equations, the Blue Tigers at no cost can suffer a defeat against Qatar on the final matchday of Group A. Then, what if India and Qatar play out a draw? The 121-ranked outfit can still qualify for the third round if Kuwait and Afghanistan also play out a draw.

But three points for either Kuwait or Afghanistan will spell trouble for India and push them down to third in the rankings.

The only situation where Stimac's men wouldn't have to rely on the result of the other fixture is if they can conjure an unprecedented victory against Asian champions. Usually, it would even seem ridiculous to say it out loud, but with Qatar opting for their second-string squad, there might be a real possibility. At least, the Croatian tactician remains hopeful.

A victory would take India to eight points, and while Afghanistan can match it if they secure three points on their own, their -10 goal difference would keep them behind the Blue Tigers.

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