Battleline Kuwait: Know your opponents for the June 6 combat

KOLKATA: India’s all-important FIFA World Cup Qualifier against Kuwait is inching closer with every day. The West Asians are a familiar side for the Blue Tigers and this is set to be their fourth meeting in less than a year, and without a shadow of a doubt, the most significant one too.

For a simple reason – a spot in the third round of FIFA World Cup Qualifiers as well as direct qualification for the AFC Asian Cup Saudi Arabia 2027 is on the line. After four matchdays, back-to-back Asian champions Qatar have already sealed their place as table toppers with four wins. But the three remaining contenders for the second and final spot are separated by only one point, leaving open a wide range of possibilities come the last two matchdays on June 6 and 11.

Despite India’s defeat to Afghanistan in March, they still occupy the second spot with four points. Afghanistan are also on four, but in third place due to their inferior goal difference, while Kuwait are at bottom with three points.

India will face Kuwait in Kolkata on June 6 before travelling to Doha to play Qatar on June 11, while Afghanistan will host Qatar in Saudi Arabia on June 6 before going on the road to take on Kuwait on June 11. While the permutations and combinations may seem confusing at first, for India, simply put, a victory on June 6 will put them on the brink of solidifying second place, since it will officially eliminate Kuwait from contention.

India’s goal difference (-3) is also significantly greater than Afghanistan’s (-10), and as such, an Indian victory in Kolkata will require the Afghans to notch two miraculous results if they are to downturn the Blue Tigers’ advantage.

The Salt Lake Stadium has been a happy hunting ground for Igor Stimac and his boys as they won all three of their matches in the AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers in June 2022 against Cambodia (2-0), Afghanistan (2-1) and Hong Kong (4-0), respectively. In fact, India have not lost a match at Kolkata’s iconic stadium since a 0-3 defeat to Saudi Arabia in the Asian Cup Qualifiers in August 2006.

A passionate crowd in a spectacular venue, against an opponent India have enjoyed good results over the last 12 months will be a confidence-booster for the Blue Tigers. While all three meetings with Kuwait were close affairs, Stimac’s men came out on top in clutch situations. After a 1-1 draw in the SAFF Championship group stage, they triumphed on penalties following another 1-1 draw in the final to lift their ninth title in July 2023. In November, a Manvir Singh strike helped India eke out a 1-0 win in Kuwait City in the first matchday of the World Cup Qualifiers.

That was also the last time India won a match and scored a goal from open play. Since then, the Blue Tigers are on a six-game winless run. But while their form has dipped and they have dropped to 121st in the FIFA Rankings, Kuwait’s recent results have also been poor. They have lost all four of their matches in 2024, including 0-3 (away) and 1-2 (home) against Qatar in the March Qualifiers and friendly defeats to Libya (1-3) and Uganda (0-2) in January. Rui Bento’s side have slipped to 139th in the FIFA Rankings.

Indian captain Sunil Chhetri admitted that there will be no surprise factor in the game since both teams are well-versed with each other. Kuwait are a side with technically good players who are quick in offense and transitions. Following the conclusion of their domestic season, they announced their 26-man squad earlier this week, with 20 of them hailing from the top three sides of the Kuwait Premier League – Kuwait SC, Al-Arabi SC and Al-Qadsia SC.

While Kuwait will be missing their dynamic winger Shabaib Al-Khaldi, who scored in the SAFF final, the other important names to watch out for will be defender Khalid El Ebrahim, midfielders Ahmed Al-Dhefiri, Sultan El-Enezi and Eid Al-Rasheedi, and forward Mobarak Al-Faneeni.

Also read: The night of June 6 at Salt Lake could be an epoch-making encounter, says Igor Stimac

Also read: Mumbai 42 Football Academy to conduct trials for Youth players

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