1985 was the first time India got a chance to play in the World Cup qualifiers when they entered the group stage of the qualifying rounds of the 1986 World Cup.
Their first-ever World Cup qualifying match was against Indonesia in Jakarta which they lost 2-1. Krishanu Dey was the lone scorer for the Blue Tigers.
In the 1950 World Cup held in Brazil, India got a chance to take part in the final competition after three teams from their group in the qualifying stage, Burma (now Myanmar), Philippines and Indonesia decided to pull out of the competition. As a result, the World Cup spot came on a platter for the Blue Tigers.
Unfortunately, India too decided to pull out of the competition due to a combination of several reasons. The Indian players in those days did not wear boots and preferred to play barefoot which would have not been approved by FIFA. Another reason was that the players were habituated to playing 70 minutes matches in domestic football so playing for 90 minutes at the highest stage could have resulted in an embarrassing result.
The third reason which several historians (including Novy Kapadia in his book 'The Football Fanatic’s Essential Guide: 2018 World Cup Special') cite is that being a newly independent nation, the Indian government was not in a position financially to bear the expenses of the team travelling to Brazil - a journey that took almost a month by ship back then.. Thus they preferred participating in the Olympics as it was considered a more prestigious competition in those days.
India's decision to pull out of the tournament in 1950 apparently ticked FIFA off who had barred India from participating in the qualifiers for the next edition of the tournament in 1954. For the next seven editions of the World Cup, India did not take part in the qualifying matches.
After taking part in the 1986 qualifiers, the Blue Tigers once again pulled out of the 1990 World Cup qualifiers before returning to action again in the 1994 qualifying round.
Out of the nine editions the team has played (48 matches), India have managed to win only nine matches so far. Their most successful campaign was the 2002 qualifiers. India started their campaign by beating a much stronger UAE side 1-0 in Bengaluru. In six matches, India had managed to pick 11 points with three wins, two draws and just a win. Their biggest-ever win in the qualifiers also came in that edition when they had beaten Brunei 5-0.
In the ongoing 2022 World Cup qualifiers, India are yet to win a single game after five matches.
Matches which India have won in World Cup Qualifiers
|March 30, 1985||1986 World Cup Qualifiers||Bangladesh 1-2 India||Shishir Ghosh, Bikash Panji||Bangladesh Army Stadium, Dhaka|
|April 12, 1985||1986 World Cup Qualifiers||India 2-1 Bangladesh||Bikash Panji, Camilo Gonsalves||Salt Lake Stadium, Kolkata|
|June 13, 1993||1994 World Cup Qualifiers||Hong Kong 1-3 India||I.M Vijayan (2), Bhupinder Thakur||Olympic Stadium, Seoul|
|September 21, 1996||1998 World Cup Qualifiers||India 2-0 Philippines||I.M Vijayan, Bruno Coutinho||Khalifa International Stadium, Doha|
|April 8, 2001||2002 World Cup Qualifiers||India 1-0 UAE||Jules Alberto||Sree Kanteerava Stadium, Bengaluru|
|May 11, 2001||2002 World Cup Qualifiers||Brunei 0-1 India||Jo Paul Ancheri||Sultan Hassal Bolkiah Stadium, Bandar Seri Begawan|
|May 20, 2001||2002 World Cup Qualifiers||India 5-0 Brunei||Jules Alberto, IM Vijayan, Bhaichung Bhutia, Ancheri, Hakim||Sree Kanteerava Stadium, Bengaluru|
|March 12, 2015||2018 World Cup Qualifiers||India 2-0 Nepal||Sunil Chhetri (2)||Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium, Guwahati|
|November 12, 2015||2018 World Cup Qualifiers||India 1-0 Guam||Robin Singh||Sree Kanteerava Stadium, Bengaluru|
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, followed by Bangladesh and Afghanistan on June 7 and June 15 respectively. All the matches of India's group are hosted by Qatar.AIFF
Current group standings
What happens if India finish fourth or fifth?
If India finish fourth then also they can qualify for the Asian Cup qualifying third round if they finish amongst the four best fourth-placed teams across all groups. The remaining four fourth-placed teams will advance to the Asian Cup qualifying play-off round.
If India finish fifth in the table, then they will have to participate in the Asian Cup Qualifying play-off round.