FIFA World Cup 2026 qualifiers: India suffers controversial exit after 1-2 loss against Qatar

Ahmed Al-Rawi scored a late winner after Yousef Aymen’s controversial equaliser as Qatar beat India 2-1 in the second round of FIFA World Cup 2026 qualifiers.

Published : Jun 11, 2024 23:12 IST , Chennai - 4 MINS READ

India’s Mehtab Singh looks on during the team’s defeat to Qatar.
India’s Mehtab Singh looks on during the team’s defeat to Qatar. | Photo Credit: REUTERS

India’s Mehtab Singh looks on during the team’s defeat to Qatar. | Photo Credit: REUTERS

A controversial goal and the quality of an under-strength Qatar robbed India of a rare high after having subjected itself to repeated low points over the last few months. A chance to achieve a historic third-round qualification for the 2026 FIFA World Cup for Indian football was denied after it went down 1-2 at the Jassim Bin Hammad Stadium in Doha on Tuesday.

Post the demoralising draw against Kuwait in what was Sunil Chhetri’s last game for India last Thursday, Igor Stimac’s side put in an inspired performance and even scored a first goal in open play in 688 minutes. But it wasn’t enough, as what looked like a wrongly awarded goal hurt India late on.

In the end, it didn’t matter what happened between Afghanistan and Kuwait as India couldn’t live by its fate to finish second in Group A behind Qatar.

AS IT HAPPENED: Qatar vs India highlights

Stimac claimed it would be a match against two U-23 sides, but Qatar’s inexperience meant India asserted itself in the game early on. India played the waiting game, pressing higher up the pitch to capitalise on any potential mistakes from the home side. India set up in 3-4-2-1 in possession, with left-back Jay Gupta pushing high to overload Qatar’s right flank.

The last time India played Qatar in Doha, the away side held on to a goalless draw thanks to the goalkeeping heroics of Gurpreet Singh Sandhu with 11 saves. On Tuesday, Gurpreet, with the captain’s armband on, was called into action in the first minute when he palmed away Alhashimi Mohialdin’s goal-bound flick over the bar. While he was helped by Qatar’s wayward finishing and some heroic defending from his teammates in the first half, India struggled to keep up with Tintin Marquez’s side’s onslaught in the second period.

Qatar’s biggest opening came through Khaled Gouda, who slipped in behind Gupta to set up Ahmed Al-Rawi for a finish from close range. But Mehtab Singh, one of the five changes to the starting XI, made a stunning block on the goalline to save India’s blushes. It wouldn’t be the only time Mehtab would deny Al-Rawi. Early in the second half, from another cut-back, the Indian centre-back executed another crucial block.

India’s first real chance came through Manvir Singh, who robbed the ball off a defender and set himself up one-on-one on goal. Still, too many touches let him down, and the follow-up opportunity to Lallianzuala Chhangte was also closed down inside the box. India kept knocking on the door and would have wanted a better final pass and finishing.

ALSO READ: Who was the referee who gave the controversial goal to Qatar against India in the FIFA World Cup 2026 qualifier?

Then everything fell into place in the 37th minute. Brandon Fernandes picked up the ball from the left side, turned goalside and drilled a low pass into the box, where Chhangte got ahead of his marker to apply the finish. A left-footed poke into the bottom of the corner put India ahead and ended the team’s open play goal draught.

After the break Qatar, with renewed vigour, flooded forward in attack, pinning India on the back foot. Whenever India won the ball deep inside its half, the midfielders failed to find the attackers and had their passes cut out.

When Al-Rawi struck Mehtab for the second time and the rebound blazed over the bar in the 55th minute, it looked like it could be India’s day, but it wasn’t to be.

From a free-kick in the 75th minute, the ball looked to have rolled behind for a goal kick, but Mohialdin flicked it back into play for Yousef Aymen to knock the ball into the net. An incensed Indian team led by Gurpreet protested the goal. However, the referee and his assistant stood their ground.

Then the killer blow came courtesy of Al-Rawi from a Qatar break, when he cut inside from outside the box and unleashed a powerful drive past a diving Gurpreet and into the goal for the team’s lead.

Stimac’s late substitutions pushed hard for an equaliser, and even with seven minutes added on, they couldn’t pull level as India’s World Cup dream ended.  

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