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FIFA World Cup Qualifiers

Top five Indian football team players with most appearances in FIFA World Cup Qualifiers

Published at :May 28, 2024 at 3:16 PM
Modified at :May 28, 2024 at 3:17 PM
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Samannay Sen


The Indian football team are yet to qualify for the FIFA World Cup.

The dream of playing in the FIFA World Cup burns bright in the heart of every Indian football fan. The beautiful game of football ignites a fiery passion in the hearts of millions across India. While the nation hasn’t yet secured a coveted spot in the FIFA World Cup finals, its journey in the qualifiers has been nothing short of remarkable.

This path has been paved by the unwavering dedication and exceptional skills of several Indian footballers. India boasts a rich footballing history, with records dating back to the late 19th century. However, qualifying for the World Cup has proven to be a significant hurdle.

Their dedication and leadership have been a beacon of hope, inspiring a generation of young footballers to dream bigger and strive for that coveted World Cup berth.

The qualification process itself is a difficult task, with teams battling it out through multiple rounds for a limited number of spots. Despite the challenges, Indian football has witnessed a surge in recent years, with players displaying a growing hunger for international success.

This article delves into the stories of the top five Indian footballers who hold the record for most appearances in the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers. Each player represents a different era of Indian football, showcasing the evolution of playing styles and strategies.

5. Manvir Singh – 3

A promising forward, Manvir Singh has shown glimpses of his potential on the international stage.  Having participated in the 2018, 2022, and ongoing 2026 World Cup Qualifiers, Singh is steadily gaining valuable experience at the highest level. 

His pace and dribbling skills are threat to opposing defenses, and his ability to create goal-scoring opportunities adds another dimension to the Indian attack. As he continues to develop, Manvir Singh is expected to play a significant role in India’s future World Cup qualification campaigns.

4. Sandesh Jhingan – 3

A rock-solid defender, Sandesh Jhingan has formed a formidable partnership alongside other defenders in the national team. His resolute defending and ability to read the game have been on display in the 2018, 2022, and ongoing 2026 World Cup qualifiers. 

Jhingan’s leadership qualities and aerial dominance make him a vital asset in thwarting opposing attacks.  His composure and experience at the back allow other players to push forward with confidence. However, he won’t be playing against Kuwait and Qatar due to an injury.

3. Gurpreet Singh Sandhu – 3

Nicknamed the “Wall of India”, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu has emerged as a crucial figure under the sticks for the national team in recent years. His exceptional shot-stopping abilities and commanding presence in the box have been instrumental in securing crucial points during the 2018, 2022, and ongoing 2026 World Cup Qualifiers. 

Sandhu’s agility and reflexes have repeatedly frustrated opponents, making him a vital component in India’s defensive setup.

2. Bhaichung Bhutia – 4

A legend of Indian football in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Bhaichung Bhutia carved his name in history with his electrifying pace and finishing skills. Nicknamed the “Sikkimese Sniper”, Bhutia participated in four World Cup qualifying campaigns (1998, 2002, 2006, 2010). 

His contribution during the 2002 qualifiers was particularly noteworthy, where India achieved one of their most successful campaigns, finishing third in their group. Bhutia’s attacking prowess and leadership inspired a generation of Indian footballers and continue to be a source of motivation for aspiring youngsters.

1. Sunil Chhetri – 5

Leading the pack is the undisputed king of Indian football, Sunil Chhetri. With a staggering 150 caps for the national team, Chhetri’s presence in World Cup Qualifiers spans an impressive four qualifying cycles (2010, 2014, 2018, and 2022) and continues in the 2026 qualifiers. 

A prolific goal-scorer and an inspiring captain, Chhetri’s leadership and experience on the field are invaluable assets for the Blue Tigers. His relentless pursuit of World Cup qualification is a testament to his dedication and unwavering belief in the team’s potential. Fascinatingly, Sunil Chhetri is fourth overall and third in the all-time active scorers’ list.

Notable Mention

I.M. Vijayan – 3

Renowned for his attacking skills and dribbling prowess, I.M. Vijayan was a key player in the 1990s. His contribution in three World Cup qualifying cycles (1994, 1998, 2002) helped shape the attacking style of the Indian team during that era.

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