Explained: How can Indian football team qualify for the FIFA World Cup

Can India Qualify For FIFA World Cup 2026? – Explained
One of the biggest football nation deserves to be in the biggest international competition (Image- IFTWC)
One of the biggest football nation deserves to be in the biggest international competition (Image- IFTWC)

Qualifying for the FIFA World Cup, the largest international football tournament in the world, is a milestone that Indian football team has yet to achieve. However, as we rely on hope for our lives, this dream finally seems to be coming true for India. The latest standings of the team have given it a major boost!

After their recent success in the Intercontinental Cup 2023, confidence is high in the Indian national football team as they head into SAFF Championship 2023.

Currently 101st in the men's FIFA rankings, India will be playing plenty of football in 2023 which is sure to bode well for the development of the sport in the country. 

The Blue Tigers will have plenty of games under their belts prior to the postponed Asian Games 2022 where India's youngsters will mostly be featuring.

However, the pinnacle for international football will always be the FIFA World Cup and India's history of participation in this showpiece event doesn't make for kind reading as they haven't played in any edition of the tournament.

Can Indian football team qualify for the 2026 World Cup ? (Image- AIFF)

While Indian football team did qualify for the 1950 edition of the World Cup after Philippines, Myanmar, and Indonesia pulled out of the tournament, the Blue Tigers also opted to withdraw from football' showpiece event.

Even though the exact reason behind their withdrawal was never made clear, some believe it was due to India wanting to play the game barefoot against which there was no FIFA regulation at the time while others claim that travelling costs to Brazil for the World Cup could have also been a reason.

Looking ahead, India's quest for their maiden appearance in a World Cup finals continues and here we have a look at if India can qualify for the 2026 FIFA World Cup.

FIFA has released the latest ranking. The Indian team received a major boost in their quest for a spot in the 2026 FIFA World Cup qualification. The team climbed to the 100th position in the world rankings, showing significant improvement. Looking ahead, there's optimism that India will climb higher and qualify for the FIFA World Cup, although the chances of this happening in 2026 seem slim.

However, on the positive side, India is in the top 20 FIFA Men's rankings for Asian teams. This grants them the advantage of skipping the first round of Asian qualification for the 2026 World Cup.

To improve their odds in these rounds, it would be beneficial for India to be grouped with lower-ranked teams. Achieving an international rank above 99 or higher and an Asian ranking above 18 can facilitate this, and they can accomplish this by securing victories in international matches throughout this year.

FIFA World Cup: How can Indian football team qualify?

Firstly the fact that the 2026 World Cup has expanded to 48 teams instead of 32 is a slight boost for India since the change in format increases slots for Asian teams from 4.5 to 8.

As India are ranked among the top 20 Asian teams in the FIFA rankings, they do not need to be a part of the first round of Asian qualification for FIFA World Cup 2026.

They do, however, need to participate from the start of Preliminary Round 2, where 36 teams will be divided into nine groups of four sides each. 

Preliminary Round 2 is slated to begin in November 2023 and will continue till June 2024, and it is here where India need to make a major push if they're to finish among the top two spots in their group.

One way India can slightly boost their chances of finishing in the top two is if India can push to be pot 2 of their FIFA World Cup 2026 Qualifiers Preliminary Round 2.

Prior to the draw for the qualifiers, the Blue Tigers will be aware of the fact that the higher their FIFA ranking is the more possibility they have to be in a group with teams ranked lower than them in it.

With that in mind, being a part of Pot 2 for the draw can be of great help for India. To be in Pot 2, India needs to be ranked 99 or higher by the end of the ongoing international break and have a minimum AFC ranking of 18.

If the Blue Tigers can continue winning matches and get ranked among the top 18 Asian teams and be ranked 99 or above in the FIFA rankings, it would put them in Pot 2 for the draw, thereby boosting their chances of playing inferior ranked teams in their group in Preliminary Round 2 and aid their hopes of a top two finish in it.

All things considered, even if India were to make it beyond Preliminary Round 2 they would still need to get beyond the third, fourth and fifth rounds of the 2026 World Cup qualifiers in Asia.

These rounds will see the best teams in Asia competing, including the top 10 sides from the continent, which means India's chances of qualifying for the FIFA World Cup 2026 is slim at the very best.

Conclusion

So, can India qualify for the FIFA World Cup 2026? Well, as optimists, we hope it's possible. The progress made by Indian football in recent years is promising. With continued dedication and support from fans, players, and football administrators, India can make significant strides towards realizing their World Cup dream.

And though the journey to the World Cup won't be easy, the beauty of sports lies in its unpredictability. Remember, football has a habit of creating magical moments that defy expectations. As we count down the days to the 2026 FIFA World Cup, let's hold on to our dreams and cheer for our national team with unwavering enthusiasm!

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