SAFF Championship 2023 Final – India trumps Kuwait on penalties


The Sunil Chhetri-led India side added the 9th SAFF Championship title to their collection when they faced Kuwait in the final at the Kanteerava Stadium on Tuesday. This was the second meeting between the two sides in this tournament with the earlier group stage meeting ending in a 1-1 draw.

Both India and Kuwait had to work hard in their semifinal encounters with their matches ending in a draw after the regulation time. The hosts was stretched to a penalty shootout by Lebanon before winning 4-2, while Kuwait had to wait till extra time to take out a 1-0 victory over Bangladesh.

After scoring in three successive matches in the group stage, the Blue Tigers drew goalless against Lebanon but won on the penalties. And now the same happened against Kuwait as the Blue Tigers drew 1-1 but later on, won in the penalty shootouts that followed.

SAFF Championship 2023 Final - India trumps Kuwait on penalties SAFF Final 2023 Kuwait vs India edited scaled

India Starting XI : Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Nikhil Poojary, Sandesh Jhingan, Anwar Ali, Akash Mishra, Jeakson Singh, Anirudh Thapa, Sahal Abdul Samad, Lallianzuala Chhangte, Sunil Chhetri, Ashique Kuruniyan.

Kuwait Starting XI : Marzouq, Albloushi, Hajiah, Al Anezi, Al Qallaf, Al Enezi, Al Dhefeery, Abujabarah, Abdullah, Al Khaldi, Al Faneeni

India got a glimpse of the goal as Akash’s cross found captain Sunil Chhetri whose glancing header was collected comfortably by the Kuwait keeper. Anirudh Thapa took India’s first corner of the match and curled it inside the box but the Kuwait goalie punched it clear. Kuwait broke fast but their striker was ultimately ruled offside. India couldn’t clear their lines as Kuwait kept possession inside the Indian half. Even if they lost the ball, they got it right back.

Kuwait were the side with all the momentum in the first quarter of the game with their quick and snappy passing while the attacks that the Indians are trying to build weren’t quite coming off. And the constant attacks by Kuwait paid dividends as India went 1 goal down in the 14th minute. An excellent passage of play from the Kuwait team and it all started with a crossfield pass. A short pass across the goal and the unmarked Alkhaldi put the ball into the back of the net.

SAFF Championship 2023 Final - India trumps Kuwait on penalties SAFF Final 2023 Kuwait vs India 6 edited scaled

Right after conceding the goal, India came roaring back very close with an attack of their own. Chhetri took a chance with a snapshot and it was parried out by the Kuwait keeper when Chhangte came rushing in. Sandesh Jhingan went into the referee’s book after a foul on a Kuwait player.

More and more attacks were launched by Kuwait but India stood strong. It was a huge blow for India as Anwar Ali went down clutching his calf, having to be stretchered off. Mehtab Singh replaced him and Kuwait was still on the attack as they took a couple of long rangers. In the 38th minute, India scored with a wonderful move. Chhetri pushed it to Sahal in the middle of the Kuwait penalty box. He drove it across the goal line and Chhangte was there to finish it off.

Al Bloushi and Al Dhefeery were booked at the end of the first half, and the Kuwait assistant coach also got booked as cards were flying everywhere as the teams went into halftime with the score level.

SAFF Championship 2023 Final - India trumps Kuwait on penalties SAFF Final 2023 Kuwait vs India 3 edited scaled

It was drizzling in Bengaluru in the second half and the rain changed the conditions a bit and, the players having to adjust accordingly. India started this half on a more positive note. With a piece of skill, Sahal evaded a sliding tackle in the midfield and glides past, and plays a long ball to Chhetri which is hit too hard.

Kuwait kept possession with short passes but nothing was coming through for them. Thapa and Kuruniyan were substituted for India, while Mahesh and Rohit Kumar came on in their place. Soon followed a foul by Rohit Kumar and he was shown a yellow card as the Kuwait player Sultan Alanezi rolled around the ground clutching his face.

SAFF Championship 2023 Final - India trumps Kuwait on penalties SAFF Final 2023 Kuwait vs India 4 edited scaled

There was a huge chance for Kuwait at the death as a stinging shot is parried by a diving Gurpreet. A foul near the right flank and a free kick for Kuwait. Nothing substantial came from the Kuwaitis and it was a goal kick for India. Late chances were blown by India as Kumar’s cross went begging. The final whistle was blown, with the game proceeding to the extra time as both teams remained inseparable.

Free kicks for both teams in each other’s territories and it’s breaking into a tussle now. Thankfully the referee intervened before it got too ugly. India kept the pressure on Kuwait but couldn’t seem to force their way through. A shot right at the death on the Indian goal by the Kuwait striker but it remained comfortable for Gurpreet.

In the second half of extra time, Kuwait got the game underway. A backpass by Abdullah and a shot was deflected wide, but the hearts were in the mouth moment for all Indians. As the second half of extra time neared its end, the prospect of penalties loomed large over this fixture. The referee blew the whistle and the match went into a penalty shootout. Chhetri, Mahesh, Chhangte, Jhinghan, and Shubasish all scored while Udanta missed in a nail-biting penalty shootout which the Blue Tigers won by a 5-4 scoreline to win the Championship title for the ninth time in their history.

SAFF Championship 2023 Final - India trumps Kuwait on penalties SAFF Final 2023 Champions 2 edited scaled

The Blue Tigers have won three titles this year in the form of the Hero Tri-Nation Tournament, Hero Intercontinental Cup, and now the SAFF Championship. This is just the beginning as the Blue Tigers will have uphill challenges lined up in September and October on foreign soil specifically in the King’s Cup in Thailand during September and Malaysia’s Merdeka Cup in October. All of this will prove to be a preparation for India’s AFC Asian Cup 2023 campaign in Qatar next January.

Follow IFTWC for all the latest updates on Indian football.

Liven Bose
Liven Bose
A die-hard Mohun Bagan supporter and Indian Football fan from Kolkata who dreams of seeing glorious and successful days ahead.

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