Chhangte, Sandhu help India beat Kuwait via penalties to win 9th SAFF Championship title

India scripted another significant moment in their successful football history, winning the SAFF Championship 2023 final. The Blue Tigers secured their ninth SAFF Championship title, a record-breaking achievement, beating Kuwait via penalties. What was even more impressive was that India was able to beat Lebanon in the semifinals and Kuwait in the final.

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The SAFF Championship 2023 final was highly competitive throughout and ended in a 1-1 draw after 120 minutes. Shabaib Al-Khaldi scored early for Kuwait, but Lallianzuala Chhangte, recently named the AIFF Player of the Year, equalised for India late in the first half.

The result also marked a milestone for coach Igor Stimac, as he became the first foreign head coach to win consecutive SAFF Championship titles. It was also the first time that India defeated two West Asian countries consecutively. They had successfully won the penalty shootout against Lebanon in the SAFF Championship 2023 semifinals.

The game began cautiously with both teams focusing on ball possession and building from the back. India had the first shot on target, a weak header from Chhangte that was saved by Abdulrahman Marzouq.

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Kuwait drew first blood through a well-executed move in the final third. An unmarked Al-Khaldi scored following an assist by Abdullah Al-Bloushi. However, India quickly responded and almost levelled a minute later. Chhangte’s powerful left-footed strike was saved by Marzouq, and Sunil Chhetri’s attempt to meet the rebound was cleared by Khaled Hajiah.

This brought the Blue Tigers some confidence, leading to an all-out assault. However, both sides experienced defensive setbacks as Hasan Al-Enezi and Anwar Ali had to be substituted due to injuries. Anwar Ali’s hamstring injury forced him to be replaced by Mehtab Singh.

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Then, India scored the crucial equaliser for a chance to win the 2023 SAFF Championship. Ashique Kuruniyan found Chhetri who spotted Sahal Abdul Samad’s run into the box. The skipper played a first-time pass to Sahal, who set up Chhangte for an easy tap-in.

Thereafter, both sides desperately looked for the match winning goal but were unsuccessful. India’s goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu made a crucial save in the dying minutes of the second half, while Kuwait had a couple of close calls in front of India’s goal.

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The game went into extra time, with both teams creating opportunities but failing to convert them. The match was eventually decided by a penalty shootout, marking India’s second consecutive shootout in the 2023 SAFF Championship.

For India, Chhetri, Jhingan, Chhangte, and Subhasish successfully scored their penalties. Al-Otaibi, Al-Dhefeery, Mahran, and Al-Khaldi also found the back of the net for Kuwait. Udanta’s penalty missed the target, leaving India in trouble. However, Abdullah hit the woodwork for Kuwait. Sandhu then emerged as the hero of the night, saving the final penalty taken by Kuwait’s captain Haijah, securing the SAFF Championship 2023 title.

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