India Secures Ninth SAFF Championship After Thrilling Penalty Shootout Against Kuwait


Bengaluru (Karnataka): India lifted the SAFF Championship by getting better of Kuwait in the penalty shootout.

Goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu made the difference for the Blue Colts once again as he saved a crucial penalty kick in the summit clash to help India beat Kuwait 5-4 in the shootout. After five rounds of penalty kicks, the scoreline was 4-4 with both sides missing a penalty each and the sudden death rule was kicked off.

Mahesh Naorem stepped up and scored for the Indian team. Sandhu had a difficult challenge in front of him as Kuwait captain Khaled Hajiah stepped in to bring back parity in the scoreline.

Sandhu made a diving save to keep Khaled’s shot away from the goal line. As soon as he saved the penalty, he ran and pulled off an animated celebration in front of the home fans.
Earlier in the game, Shabaib Al Khaldi had put Kuwait in the driver’s seat in the 14th minute of the game.

India almost equalised in the very next minute. Lallianzuala Chhangte’s powerful left-footed strike from the edge of the box was matched by Marzouq before Chhetri rushed in to meet the rebound, but Khaled Hajiah cleared it away.

India managed to score the equalise as Ashique Kuruniyan was allowed time on the ball, he picked out Sunil Chhetri, who in turn, spotted Sahal Abdul Samad’s run into the box and played him through with a first-time pass. The midfielder set the chance for Chhangte, who tapped it in with the gaping goal in front of him.

The scoreline remained intact and the game went to extra time. Set-pieces have been one of India’s biggest weapons in the tournament and they looked to utilise it during that period but were constantly denied following the resolute defence of Kuwait.

Soon after the play restarted in the second half of extra time, Mehtab made one of the most crucial blocks of the night, as he threw his body at Fawaz Al-Otaibi’s shot from close range to keep the score level.

With just two minutes, the last chance to win it in normal time fell for India. Nikhil Poojary’s curling cross from the right dropped for Chhangte, who took it down before sending the ball over the bar with his weaker right foot.

Finally, it came down to a penalty shootout in the end, the second in a row for India in the 2023 SAFF Championship. India managed to edge past Kuwait with a score of 5-4 and secure their ninth SAFF Championship.

With this win, Indian head coach Igor Stimac becomes the first foreign head coach to win back-to-back SAFF Championship titles.

This was also the first time that India defeated two West Asian countries in back-to-back matches, after winning the semi-final against Lebanon, also on penalties.

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