Afghanistan chase football milestone on road to 2026 World Cup

AFP , Monday 10 Jun 2024

Afghanistan hope to achieve a footballing milestone on Tuesday by snatching a spot in the third and final phase of Asian qualifying for the 2026 World Cup.

Afghanistan s
Afghanistan s Sharif Mukhammad (2L) celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal during the 2026 FIFA World Cup AFC qualifiers football match between India and Afghanistan at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in Guwahati. AFP


The team ranked 151 in the world are on the brink of history and a place at the 2027 Asian Cup under their English coach Ashley Westwood.

Once on the books of Manchester United, he took over the Afghan team seven months ago and has masterminded a significant upturn in fortunes for the footballing minnows.

They play away at Kuwait on Tuesday in the final round of games in the second qualifying stage knowing they need to better India's result at Qatar to progress further.

Afghanistan held already qualified Qatar, the Asian champions, to a precious 0-0 draw on Thursday in a "home" game for the Afghans that was played in Saudi Arabia.

"When we took over in November just before the first game against Qatar, which we lost 8-1, (if) you told us that we'll be giving ourselves a chance of qualifying with one game to go, we wouldn't have believed it," Westwood said afterwards.

"The players are excited and we believe that we have a genuine chance of making history for Afghanistan in reaching the Asian Cup and third round of the World Cup qualifiers."

India are also trying to reach the final stage of World Cup qualifying for the first time.

Igor Stimac's side currently occupy the second qualifying berth from Group A on goal difference from the Afghans.

Just to complicate things, Kuwait are also in with a shot of progressing, with the group going right down to the wire.

After Stimac saw his men held to a goalless home draw against Kuwait on Thursday, the coach said: "We don't have time to feel sorry for ourselves because our chances are still alive.

"I need to do everything in the next five days to make the boys believe they will take us into the challenge against the Asian champions."

Indonesia breakthrough?

Elsewhere, it is a straight shootout between China and Thailand for the second qualifying berth out of Group C.

China are in the driving seat in second place and needing only a point from their final game to guarantee advancement.

However, they must travel to Son Heung-min's table-topping South Korea while Thailand have a far easier task when they host basement side Singapore in Bangkok.

As well as Qatar and South Korea, also already into the last qualifying round are: Japan, Oman, Iran, Uzbekistan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the UAE, Bahrain, Australia and Palestine.

Kyrgyzstan, Malaysia and Indonesia are all bidding to join them in the third Asian qualifying round for the first time.

It is between Indonesia and Vietnam to take the second qualifying place out of Group F.

Indonesia will be favourites to progress because they are a point in front and host already eliminated Philippines in Jakarta. Vietnam travel to table-toppers Iraq.

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