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2022 World Cup Qualifiers: Can India end their campaign with a positive goal difference for only the third time in history?

05:39 BST 12/06/2021
Igor Stimac Indian national team
India will aim to end their 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign with a positive goal difference for only the third time in history...

India lock horns against Afghanistan in their final Group E clash in the second round 2022 FIFA World Cup and 2023 AFC Asian Cup joint qualifiers at the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium in Doha, Qatar, on Tuesday.

India resumed their campaign on June 3 with a 1-0 loss against Qatar before bouncing back with a 2-0 win over Bangladesh courtesy of a brace by Sunil Chhetri in their penultimate match of the group stage.

While India does not stand a chance of making it to the next round of the World Cup qualification, they have a very good chance of finishing third in the group stage and qualifying directly to the third round of the 2023 Asian Cup qualifiers if they avoid defeat against the Afghans in the final game. Afghanistan lost their penultimate group match against Oman 2-1 on Friday.

If India beat Afghanistan in the final group game, then not only will they seal their third spot, but they will also end their campaign in the World Cup qualifying group stage with a positive goal difference, a feat they have only achieved twice in the past.

The Blue Tigers so far has scored five goals in seven matches and have conceded only six. 2002 World Cup qualifiers was the only time they conceded less than this campaign (5 goals). However, they played only six matches in total compared to the eight this time around.

In the 2010 and 2014 World Cup qualifiers, India had conceded six and five goals respectively but India were ousted from the first round play-offs itself. So, they played only two matches in each campaign.

Only twice in history has India managed to keep positive goal difference. In 1986, India's first-ever World Cup qualifying campaign, their goal difference was +1 and in 2002 their goal difference was +6.

In 1986, India played in the group stage alongside Indonesia, Thailand and Bangladesh (FIFA Ranings came into effect only in 1992) and in 2002, India were clubbed alongside UAE, Yemen and Brunei. During the 2002 campaign, only UAE were ranked higher than India in the FIFA rankings. While Yemen on average were ranked 135 in 2001, Brunei were ranked 189 both below India (121).

India's goal difference in World Cup qualifiers over the years

Edition GD GF GA Opponents
1986 World Cup Qualifiers +1 7 6 Indonesia, Thailand, Bangladesh
1994 World Cup Qualifiers -14 8 22 South Korea, Bahrain, Lebanon, Hong Kong
1998 World Cup Qualifiers -4 3 7 Qatar, Sri Lanka, Philipinnes
2002 World Cup Qualifiers +6 11 5 UAE, Yemen, Brunei
2006 World Cup Qualifiers -16 2 18 Japan, Oman, Singapore
2010 World Cup Qualifiers -3 3 6 Lebanon
2014 World Cup Qualifiers -3 2 5 UAE
2018 World Cup Qualifiers -13 5 18 Iran, Oman, Turkmenistan, Guam

How are India doing in the 2022 World Cup qualifiers?

India started their World Cup qualification run with a narrow 2-1 defeat at the hands of Oman at home, followed by a historic goalless draw against Asian champions Qatar in Doha. In their third and fourth matches, the Blue Tigers managed 1-1 draws against both Bangladesh and Afghanistan and then they suffered a 1-0 defeat against Oman away from home.

They resume their campaign against Qatar on June 3 and lost 1-0 but followed it up with a 2-0 win over Bangladesh. They are set to take on Afghanistan in the final match on June 15. 

How can India finish in third place?

With Qatar and Oman locked in a battle for the top two spots, Afghanistan and India are fighting for third place which will ensure a direct spot in the third round of the Asian Cup Qualification 2023. 

After defeating Bangladesh, India need to avoid defeat Afghanistan in their final match to seal third spot. 

Afghanistan, after falling to a 2-1 defeat to Oman on Friday, are a point below India in the table. 

Afghanistan need to win against India to seal third spot for themselves. A draw in the game will see India finish third.