Hosts, India clinched the SAFF Championship title for the ninth time after beating Kuwait 5-4 in a tense penalty shootout after both sides played a 1-1 draw after 120 minutes.
India clinched the SAFF Championships 2023 title, securing a stunning win over Kuwait through a penalty shootout. India secured a 5-4 victory in the penalty shootout, with the exceptional goalkeeping skills of Gurpreet Singh Sandhu denying Khaled Hajiah’s pivotal kick and sealing the triumph for the home side.
A tense final
During regulation time, Kuwait took an early lead in the 14th minute when Shabaib Al Khaldi found the back of the net. However, India rallied back and demonstrated their resilience as Chhangte equalized in the 39th minute.
The corresponding result of the same fixture in the group stage also notably ended in a 1-1 draw. So, there was little to choose between both sides.
In this final though, Kuwait started the match brightly, taking the lead in the 14th minute with a blistering transition. Right back, Abdullah Albloushi was released on the overlap and his low cross into the box was tapped in by Al Khaldi to give Kuwait a 1-0 lead.
However, India displayed exceptional combination play in the final third, leveling making the score at 1-1 in the 39th minute, with Sunil Chhetri playing a significant role once again in the lead up to the goal.
The game ended 1-1 after 90 minutes and even extra time failed to produce a decisive goal. Consequently, the match progressed to a penalty shootout to determine the winner, where India prevailed and lifted the SAFF Championship for the ninth time.
Road to the final
While the SAFF Championship traditionally encompasses South Asian nations, the absence of Sri Lanka, due to FIFA suspension, allowed for the inclusion of Lebanon and Kuwait in this tournament.
Both guest teams showcased their footballing prowess, injecting a fresh and exciting flavor into the tournament, and delighting spectators.
India advanced from the group stage by convincingly defeating Pakistan 4-0, Nepal 2-0, and earning a hard-fought 1-1 draw against Kuwait. In the semifinals, they encountered Lebanon and emerged victorious in a penalty shootout after a 1-1 stalemate.
Meanwhile, Kuwait exhibited their dominance by triumphing over Nepal with a 3-1 victory and delivering a commanding performance in a separate match with a resounding 4-0 win.
Individual awards aplenty
Indian captain, Sunil Chhetri finished as the top goal scorer and was also named the Player of the Tournament.
India’s head coach, Igor Stimac, expressed his satisfaction with the team’s SAFF Championship victory, emphasizing that it demonstrated their potential when provided with time and space to work.
Looking ahead, India’s next objective is to meticulously prepare for the forthcoming AFC Asian Cup 2023, scheduled to be held in Qatar next year.