Chhetri’s swansong ends in a draw as India fail to take their chances

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In the Salt Lake Stadium, 58,912 voices roared the Indian captain’s name as Sunil Chhetri walked through the Indian national team’s guard of honour for the final time in his career. Emotions were at an all-time high as India took on Kuwait in the 2nd round of the World Cup qualifiers, marking Chhetri’s last match for the national team. A win for India would have put them in a very favorable position to qualify for the third round of the World Cup qualifiers. However, Chhetri’s picture-perfect farewell wasn’t to be, as neither team could break the deadlock, and the match ended in a 0-0 draw.

Kuwait found themselves one-on-one with Gurpreet in the 4th minute, forcing a big save to keep the scores level. A free kick conceded by India in the 7th minute saw Kuwait launch the ball into the Blue Tigers’ box, but it was safely collected by Sandhu. The Indian keeper was forced to make another big save as Abdulah got behind the Indian defence and launched a dangerous cutback for Al Sulaiman. Sandhu did well to collect it just before the Kuwait captain had a chance to tap it into the empty net.

Liston Colaco made a brilliant run behind the Kuwait defence in the 11th minute, forcing them to clear the ball out for a corner. The resulting corner found the head of Anwar Ali, whose header went just above the crossbar. Chhangte found an opportunity to shoot in the 14th minute after Poojary’s cross found him on the edge of the box surrounded by the Kuwait defence. His shot went well over the bar.

In the 25th minute, Liston Colaco whipped in a dangerous ball looking for Chhetri. The Kuwaiti defence cleared it just before it reached the target man, much to the dismay of the Salt Lake Stadium crowd, who had been chanting the Indian captain’s name from the first minute. The resultant corner found the head of Anwar Ali, but the effort was easily collected by the Kuwait keeper, Ghafoor.

The Blue Tigers earned a free kick in a dangerous position in the 28th minute. The resultant ball found itself at the feet of Colaco after a few deflections, who struck it to the side netting. Al Rashid struck the ball with a lot of power in the 37th minute from outside the box. The shot whizzed past the Indian defence and keeper to hit the side netting.

India ended the first half without a shot on target. Sahal and Chhangte found themselves in dangerous spaces towards the end of the first half but could not create promising chances. The Men in Blue tended to rush into making decisions, which enabled the Kuwaiti players to not only deal with the threat easily but also launch counter-attacks.

Read: India vs Kuwait – We had Chhetri, I just don’t think you understand

India

The man of the moment, Sunil Chhetri, was not as involved in the match as much as he would have liked in his final appearance for the national team. The team turned up the tempo towards the latter end of the first half in an attempt to catch the Kuwaiti backline in possession but failed to create any real threat as the first half drew to a close.

Kuwait started the second half strongly as Alharbi went for a first-time shot after a cross from the left found him in the 47th minute. Gurpreet did well to make a strong save. The best chance of the game fell to Rahim Ali as he found himself one-on-one with the goalkeeper in the 48th minute.

The Blue Tigers should have taken the lead from this chance, but unfortunately, Rahim took one touch too many, and Abdulghafoor got down well to make a brilliant save. Rahim had another chance fall to him as Bheke threaded in a through-pass in the 51st minute, but Rahim shot it wide of the frame.

India

Both teams witnessed a fall in the pace of the game as the second half progressed. Stimac’s men took a conservative and risk-averse approach to the game, which saw them clear the ball forward without any intended target. India mostly looked to play the ball onto the wingers and have them make runs hugging the sideline. However, this approach fell flat as the Blue Tigers gave up possession much too easily or took too many touches in the final third, killing the attack and letting the Kuwaiti defence get back.

Kuwait had a huge penalty appeal turned down in the 74th minute as Alsulaimani claimed foul play as he was challenged by Anwar Ali in the box. The forward took a deft first touch which allowed him to get into a very threatening position before Ali’s challenge came in. Chhangte received the ball wide in the 77th minute but chose to send his cross to the back post where Manvir Singh was waiting instead of trying to pick out one of his three teammates in the box. Manvir failed to control the ball as another promising attack by India fizzled out.

A brawl broke out in stoppage time as Edmund Lalrindika, the first I-League player to make his debut for India in half a decade, clashed with Al-Sanea. The tussle between the two soon saw their teammates join in the heated arguments as the referee booked both players originally involved.

India vs Kuwait

The Salt Lake Stadium did not want the final whistle to be blown as it would mean that Sunil Chhetri’s stellar international career would be over. However, as everything must come to an end, the match concluded at 0-0, with the entire crowd rising to their feet to applaud their captain. With 151 appearances, 94 goals, and 11 assists, Sunil Chhetri drew the curtains on his 19-year international career.

Every single person in attendance was on their feet as Chhetri walked his last lap around the pitch, alone and applauding everyone present. Hearts swelled with emotion as the Indian captain broke down in tears when he was given his final guard of honor by his national teammates before walking off the pitch for the final time in the blue jersey.

India’s hopes of securing qualification to the third round of the World Cup qualifiers now depend on Afghanistan’s upcoming results after they failed to take their chances. India faces Qatar next in the final match of this round of the World Cup qualifiers. The Sunil Chhetri-shaped hole, responsible for scoring 49% of India’s goals in the last five years, cannot be replaced, but the team as a whole needs to step up if they want to make history and qualify for the next round of the World Cup qualifiers.


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