The Sree Kanteerava stadium erupted with the 26800 Indian fans breaking into Vande Mataram as the Indian team made their victory lap in the stadium that saw them write history. India was crowned the champions of the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Championship for a record 9th time after beating Kuwait in a harrowing encounter that couldn’t separate the two sides after 120 minutes of end-to-end football.
Kuwait opened the scoring in the 14th minute through Shabib Al Khaldi’s strike. India grabbed a very well-worked equalizer in the 38th minute when the recently crowned AIFF Men’s Player of the Year, Lallianzuala Chhangte slotted in Sahal Samad’s cutback. The game was taken all the way to sudden death in the penalty shootout as Gurpreet Singh Sandhu saved the Kuwait captain, Hajiah’s penalty to win India their third trophy in three months and extend their unbeaten run to 10 games. India gave Kuwait a well-deserved guard of honor following the nail-biting encounter which saw both teams come extremely close to grabbing a winner.
The key takeaways from the match are as follows:-
1. Kanteerava Cacophony
“Our Jungle. Our Prey.” The tifo on display at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium before the encounter ensued should have been a warning to Kuwait that the crowd would not make the match easy for them by any means. The Bengaluru crowd was unbelievable as they created an electrifying atmosphere throughout the match. Their deafening support kept the team going whenever it seemed Kuwait was getting a hold of the game.
The goosebumps-inducing Vande Mataram renditions rang throughout the stadium on multiple occasions. The Kanteerava crowd won the hearts of every Indian as they rallied behind Udanta Singh following his missed penalty with their cheers of support. The incredible atmosphere kept the team going as they came back from a goal down to win the match and lift the trophy.
2. Yellow cards galore
The Indian win becomes even more impressive when we realize that the team also overcame the psychological battle they were put through by the Kuwait national team. The game plan for Kuwait seemed clear as they started the game looking to physically impose themselves on the Blues. Kuwait’s game plan was to throw the Blues off their game and get into their heads with the constant fouls and time-wasting tactics from the very start of the game.
Almost a recreation of their previous encounter against the Blues which saw the Indian head coach, Igor Stimac respond to their constant provoking and earning himself a suspension from today’s final, Kuwait picked up 7 yellow cards in this matchup. This included a triple yellow in just the 45th minute for Kuwait. The Blues did not falter under pressure and kept at it throughout 120 minutes despite Kuwait’s efforts to throw the Indians off their game.
3. Incredibly worked equalizer
The Blues were put under immense pressure very early on in the game as Kuwait’s Shabib Al Khaldi scored to put them ahead in just the 14th minute. Kuwait kept creating chances and looked like the likelier team to grab the second goal of the game. However, as fate would have it, India’s equalizer came in the 38th minute at the end of a sensational team effort.
Kuwait’s Al Dhefeery failed to clear the ball and it was picked up by Ashique Kuruniyan. Kuruniyan managed to turn and find Sunil Chhetri with his pass. Chhetri threaded through a sublime ball, splitting open the Kuwaiti defense to find Sahal Samad. Sahal took a touch in the box to draw the opposition keeper out before squaring it off to an incoming Lallianzuala Chhangte who had the goal at his mercy. Chhangte made no mistake as he slotted in India’s equalizer leading to not only the Kanteerava stadium but also the entire team cheering in jubilation.
4. Never-say-die attitude
The Indian team must be given props for how they kept trying until the very end to find a winner before winning the game in the penalty shootout. The Indian Football team has been playing a game every 3 days since 9th June after a long ISL and Super Cup campaign. The team also played 120 minutes of football against Lebanon in the semifinals. Despite this, the Blues never once allowed their intensity to drop in this end-to-end final.
With the Kanteerava crowd playing a large part in keeping them going, the Blues defended the Kuwaiti onslaught with everything they had and even created a plethora of chances at the other end. The Blues almost won it in the 119th minute as Chhangte’s strike went just over the bar.
5. Penalty shootout drama
With nothing to separate the two teams after 120 minutes, India and Kuwait had to leave their SAFF Championship fate up to the often-unforgiving penalty shootout. The Blues captain, Sunil Chhetri stepped up to take the first penalty and the result could have never been in doubt. Kuwait’s Abdullah proceeded to hit the bar with his penalty giving India the advantage. Both teams scored their next two penalties. However, Udanta Singh skied India’s 4th penalty giving Kuwait a lifeline back into the game.
Subhashish Bose made no mistake as he scored India’s 5th penalty shot. The shootout went to sudden death after Kuwait converted their 5th strike as well. With Mahesh Singh slotting his penalty away, it was a standoff between the Kuwaiti captain, Hajiah, and Gurpreet Singh Sandhu as the entire nation watched on with bated breath. Jubilation ensued as the Kanteerava erupted with Gurpreet saving the penalty and winning India their 9th SAFF Championship.
The Tri-Nation Cup, the ICC trophy, and the SAFF Championship – that makes it 3 trophies in 3 months for India. The future awaiting this nation’s footballing team is exciting to say the least, as the Blues set their sights on the King’s Cup at Thailand in September next.
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