The FIFA Council casted a historic vote on Tuesday, increasing the number of teams that can play the World Cup to 48, starting from 2026. Will India's dream of playing the World Cup finally be fulfilled?
India's FIFA World Cup quest for 2018 has ended. But, how about the 2022 Qatar World Cup and thereafter? Prospects look grim, until and otherwise Stephen Constantine's army can deliver some sensational performances in the years to come.
The likes of Sunil Chhetri, Eugeneson Lyngdoh and Jeje Lalpekhlua, will be past their retirement age by 2026 FIFA World Cup.
Now is the right time to set the grassroots football programs in motion in India.
The young guns, who will play for India in the FIFA U17 World Cup, stand as the likely candidates to represent India in FIFA World Cup 2026. If they manage to qualify, that is.
"It was already discussed earlier [the prospect of a 48-team World Cup] and we knew that it would be approved," All India Football Federation (AIFF) General Secretary Kushal Das told Goal India after the historic verdict from FIFA.
"I am not surprised at all as it is a unanimous decision by the FIFA executive committee. The interesting thing to see will be that how many teams make the cut from Asia."
Currently, the number of teams that can participate in the FIFA World Cup from the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) remains four; this has been the figure since the number of teams were expanded to 32 during the FIFA World Cup 1998.
Initial reports suggest that the final number of teams from Asia could be eight to nine. But we have to wait till May for an official confirmation.
If that does happen, does India have a chance really? Kushal Das says: "I mean we always said that we wanted to play the 2026 World Cup and now with this development, let us see how we work out things surrounding it."
To make the cut for the FIFA World Cup 2026, India has to better their FIFA ranking, like really better. Just breaking into top 100 won't cut it.
Indian football team has a long way to go before breaking into the Fifa World Cup scene.
India is ranked 135 in the latest FIFA rankings and 22nd among the AFC teams. Unless, India make a quantum leap in quick time, the dream to make it to the final 48 of FIFA World Cup 2026, will remain a dream.