Sunil Chhetri continued his stellar form, scoring yet again, but a late own goal by India led to Kuwait staging a comeback and securing a 1-1 draw in the final Group A match of the Bangabandhu SAFF Championship 2023.
The game was intense and filled with action from the beginning to the end. In the closing moments of the first half, Sunil Chhetri scored his 92nd international goal, a well-executed volley that gave India the lead. Despite coming close, India couldn’t increase their goal tally in the SAFF Championship 2023 game. Unfortunately, in injury time during the second half, Anwar Ali scored an own goal, which dashed India’s hopes of finishing at the top of the group, leaving them heartbroken.
India started the game aggressively, putting pressure on Kuwait in the attacking and midfield areas. Naorem Mahesh Singh, who had scored his first international goal in the previous match, caused numerous problems for Kuwait from the left wing.
In the fifth minute, Mahesh delivered a cross from the left wing to Akash Mishra, who was overlapping, but Sunil Chhetri narrowly missed connecting with the ball in the middle.
Throughout the SAFF Championship 2023 match, India posed a threat from set-pieces. Their first opportunity came from a corner taken by Mahesh, which Kuwait failed to clear, leading to a chance for Anwar Ali whose shot was weak and easily blocked on the goal line.
India’s confrontational approach resulted in a setback in the 14th minute when Sandesh Jhingan’s tackle on Eid Al-Rashidi earned him a yellow card and a suspension for the upcoming semi-final on Saturday.
Kuwait gradually gained momentum and had their first significant chance in the 20th minute when Shabaib Al-Khaldi shot the ball over the crossbar. Five minutes later, Amrinder Singh made an excellent save to deny Mohammad Abdullah’s close-range shot following a clever pass from Al-Khaldi.
India became increasingly dangerous from dead-ball situations, and although Kuwait breathed a sigh of relief when Anwar headed wide from a corner taken by Thapa, Sunil Chhetri ensured that India wouldn’t be denied on the next opportunity.
Just before halftime, with another corner from Thapa, Chhetri, positioned strategically against Kuwait’s zonal marking, expertly volleyed the ball into the net from 12 yards out. Sunil Chhetri only needed one chance to give India the lead.
As expected, Kuwait emerged with a sense of urgency after the break. Although Rui Bento’s team had more possession, India remained dominant in their defensive third. In the 57th minute, Amrinder made a brilliant save, tipping Al-Khaldi’s free-kick over the crossbar.
India went on the offence in the second half, playing some attacking football. Mahesh, who had switched positions with Lallianzuala Chhangte, delivered a high cross from the right, which fell to Ashique Kuruniyan, but his volley narrowly missed the target from a difficult angle.
Jeakson Singh Thounaojam had a couple of chances for India. First, his shot was blocked by Sultan Al-Enezi, and then he headed Chhangte’s cross wide from the ensuing corner.
Jhingan once again demonstrated India’s defensive prowess with a strong tackle on Al-Khaldi, who had a clear path to goal. The Kanteerava Stadium erupted with loud chants from the fans in appreciation of Jhingan’s efforts.
With the game entering the final ten minutes, Stimac was shown a red card after arguing with referee Alomgir, marking the Croatian coach’s second expulsion of the SAFF Championship 2023.
Substitute Rohit Kumar had a golden opportunity to secure the win for India, but he could only send Udanta’s low cross over the crossbar from just outside the six-yard box. Amrinder made another impressive save as he parried away a powerful left-footed strike from Al-Khaldi in the 84th minute.
Tempers continued to flare after Stimac’s dismissal when Sahal Abdul Samad was fouled in Kuwait’s half, and the Kuwaiti players prevented a quick restart, resulting in a scuffle. As a result, Hamad Al-Qallaf and Rahim Ali were also shown red cards.
However, India’s seven-match clean-sheet streak came to an end. Anwar Ali inadvertently deflected Abdullah Al-Bloushi’s seemingly harmless cross from the right into the Indian net while attempting to clear it.