Asian champion Qatar ended India’s 15-game unbeaten run at home with a 3-0 win in the FIFA World Cup 2026 qualifiers at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar on Tuesday, and stayed top of Group A with six points from two matches.
Moustafa Tarek Mashal, Almoez Ali and Yusuf Abdurisag scored for Qatar in India’s first loss in the second round of qualifiers.
The visitor, starting on the offensive right from kick-off, had its first chance in the second minute when Amrinder’s miscued kick found Almoez on his left. The forward jinked into the Indian penalty box and crossed it for Akram Afif on his left, but the No.11’s shot went wide, to the relief of the home fans.
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Qatar had already sensed blood. Within the next two minutes, it was 1-0 up.
A corner kick from Afif, initially cleared, was lobbed in eventually, with Tameem Mansour Al-Abdullah winning the ball in the penalty box. A confused Indian defence was caught napping, as Moustafa barged in and rattled the net with a grounded effort.
It was a battle of the No. 23s – India’s No. 23 Amrinder Singh had replaced in-form goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu – who had risen to a hero’s status against Qatar, four years ago – in the starting eleven.
For Qatar, it was Moustafa, the 22-year-old attacking midfielder who scored the defining goal in the first half. At the half-hour mark, he came close to doubling the lead, but this time, Amrinder reigned supreme, pushing his header away.
India showed a glimmer of hope for a comeback in the 35th minute when Anirudh Thapa and Sunil Chhetri combined along the right. The former carried the ball into the final third, and the latter’s back-heel, followed by Thapa’s pass, set up Lalengmawia in front of the penalty box. However, he skied the ball.
Seven minutes later, India got an opening again. Chhetri’s run forced an error by the Qatari back-line, and Thapa latched on to it.
A side ranked 41 spots above India had let slip not one but two chances to get square. Thapa got to it, with Igor Stimac’s and Carlos Queiroz’s eyes stuck to that moment with equal trepidation. But the midfielder’s shot went just wide, and for the first time – both Indian and Qatari fans in the stadium heaved “oooh!” together, with entirely different emotions.
After restart, Qatar immediately overwhelmed the Indian half in numbers, and within a couple of minutes, it doubled the difference. Just when Amrinder thought he had stopped Afif’s shot from close proximity with his fingertips, Almoez kicked it off his glove into the empty net.
Stimac tried to shuffle the pack, bringing Ishan Pandita and Rahul KP for Sunil Chhetri and Lallianzuala Chhangte. However, the forwards did not have any positive impact in front of goal.
In the 86th minute, the Maroons ended the contest when substitute Yusuf headed a cross from the left past Amrinder.
The loss keeps India second in the table, with three points from two games so far, but more importantly, it allows Stimac and his boys to gauge their weaknesses well before they travel to Qatar for the AFC Asian Cup next year.