The Indian men’s football team has started the 2026 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers with a victory in Kuwait. Back at home in Bhubaneswar, India will face Asian champions Qatar, which will be a tough challenge as Qatar is ranked 61 in the world, while India is 102. However, the contests between the Maroons and the Blue Tigers have historically been tight and cagey affairs. The goalless draw in the World Cup Qualifiers in Doha back in 2019 was one of Indian football’s most famous results in recent times, as Qatar had just lifted the Asian Cup trophy a few months earlier and India’s goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu played a key role in that game.
Sandhu recalls the game as one where the team played with no pressure and worked together to make it difficult for the opponent. The result was an invaluable point at the home of a side that had beaten every Asian opponent they faced that year.
Despite making 11 saves in the game, Sandhu credits his team for the performance. Although the second fixture against Qatar was a 0-1 loss for ten-man India, Sandhu made nine saves. Against Kuwait, Sandhu earned a record 25th clean sheet for India.
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Sandhu feels that the clean sheets are a testament to the hard work put in by the team. Looking ahead to the upcoming clash at the Kalinga Stadium, Sandhu believes that the team has evolved and is more aggressive and hungry now.
He stated, “We are a different team now. More evolved, less scared, more aggressive and hungry. We don’t need to look that far for inspiration. Now, we have players who have played more football together over the years and are peaking. Our recent performances are a testament for us to keep pushing and believing.”