The Indian football team has officially secured their place in Pot 2 following their winning campaign at the SAFF Championship 2023. This is a boost to the Blue Tigers as they look to build on an assertive year of performances for the national team under coach Igor Stimac. India enters the 2026 World Cup qualifiers from the second round in November 2023.
It was critically important for the national team to secure their place in Pot 2, as it was hanging in the balance going into the finals of the SAFF Championship. India needed to avoid loss in regular time to ensure their points total saw them finish above Lebanon, and the Boys in Blue managed this feat by avoiding defeat and triumphing in the tournament. India is in Pot 2 alongside rivals like China, Azerbaijan, Vietnam, Syria and Bahrain.
The significance behind the Pot 2 qualification is that the group stage of the qualifiers will only seed one team from each Pot into any given group. Hence India will not have to face any other Pot 2 teams in that round, resulting in more manageable group-stage fixtures than those from Pot 3.
India’s chances of World Cup qualification appear bleak
Despite top performances in the recent SAFF tournament and the Intercontinental Cup, India’s chance of qualifying for the 2026 World Cup in North America appears slim. While the country’s seeding into Pot 2 is a boost, the qualification depends on actual performances. Despite not facing any Pot 2 teams and only 1 Pot 1 team, India is unlikely to make it far into the tournament if FIFA rankings are any indication.
The country is currently ranked 99th in the world and is much closer to top Pot 3 sides like Tajikistan (109) and Lebanon (102) than to the better Pot 2 sides like China and Uzbekistan, ranked 79 and 74, respectively. India is also far away from the top Asian sides such as Iran, Japan, South Korea and Australia, who not only have played at previous world cups but also feature rosters full of players that play regularly in top leagues abroad.
Pot 2 qualification will impact the next stage, with the top 2 of each group heading into the third round. In this stage, teams are seeded into a larger group with six countries, where only the top 2 can qualify directly.