India and Kuwait, both at the top of Group A, will face off in their final group match of the SAFF Championship 2023 at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium on Tuesday.
With both teams tied on points (6) and goal difference (+6), they have already secured a spot in the semi-finals. The outcome of this match will determine the group winner, who will face the second-placed team from Group B in the semi-finals.
A win will take India to the top position as they currently trail Kuwait in terms of goals scored. Coach Igor Stimac emphasised the importance of maintaining a strong defence, which has not conceded a goal in the last eight matches. “Result-wise, there’s not much in it apart from getting a bit easier opponents in the semi-final. We’ll approach this game as any other game and try to win it. Keeping a clean sheet is always our first goal,” he said.
Stimac served a one-match suspension in the previous game against Nepal, where India secured a 2-0 result. Despite making eight changes to the lineup from the opening match against Pakistan, the Blue Tigers struggled in the first half but performed well in the second half.
India has faced Kuwait three times at the senior level, winning one match and losing two. The last encounter in 2010 resulted in a heavy 9-1 defeat for the Blue Tigers, while their only win over Kuwait was during a 3-2 friendly in 2004.
Although Kuwait is currently ranked 143, Stimac believes their ranking underestimates their true quality. He acknowledged Kuwait’s strong performances against Asian teams in recent months.
Kuwait, led by Portuguese coach Rui Bento, has won seven of their last eight matches, including victories over the UAE, Tajikistan, Philippines, and Zambia. In the SAFF Championship, they defeated Nepal 3-1 and Pakistan 4-0, showcasing their depth and strength.
Both teams made multiple changes in their previous matches to manage player fitness, and Bento expressed confidence in his entire squad. “I look for the development of our players in every game. That’s most important at the moment for us. More than focusing on India, our focus is on ourselves as we can only control our game, not the opponents,” he added.
The clash between India and Kuwait promises to be an exciting contest as they vie for the top spot in Group A and set their sights on the semi-finals of the SAFF Championship.