Historic Win: India Claims 9th SAFF Championship Crown, Defeating Kuwait in Final

At the Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru on Tuesday, the Indian men’s football team defeated Kuwait 5-4 in a dramatic penalty shootout to claim the SAFF Championship 2023 title.

India, currently ranked 100th in the FIFA rankings, won the SAFF Championship 2023 for the eighth time in its history. After winning the Intercontinental Cup last month, India now has two consecutive victories in sporting events. 

India vs Kuwait, SAFF Championship 2023 Final highlights:

Goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu made the difference once again as he saved a crucial penalty kick in the summit clash to help India beat Kuwait 5-4 in the shootout and clinch SAFF Championships title for the ninth time here on Tuesday.

The score remained 4-4 after five rounds of penalty kicks, thus the sudden death system was used. Mahesh Naorem scored, but Kuwait captain Khaled Hajiah’s attempt was saved by diving Sandhu, setting off a raucous celebration among the home crowd and at the India dugout. Prior to Lallianzuala Chhangte’s equalizing goal in the 39th minute, Shabaib Al Khaldi had given Kuwait the lead in the 14th minute.

In regulation time, the newly named AIFF Player of the Year, tied the score for India in the final minute of regulation after Shabaib Al Khaldi had given Kuwait’s football team the lead earlier in the period (14′).

Igor Stimac, the head coach of India, made three alterations to the starting eleven from the semifinal match against Lebanon. Stimac was prohibited from being on the field and had to watch the game from the stands. Full-backs Akash Mishra and Nikhil Poojary made their comebacks, and Sandesh Jhingan, who had been suspended for the previous game, took Mehtab Singh’s position at the center of the defense.

As the game progressed, India grew in confidence and attacked the Kuwait half in waves. The hosts managed to score the equaliser during one such move. Ashique Kuruniyan won the ball in the Kuwait half and passed it to Sunil Chhetri. The Indian football team captain sent in a weighted through-ball to Lallianzuala Chhangte, who slotted it in to make it 1-1.

The scores were tied 1-1 at the end of the first half. Nikhil Pooojary and Lallianzuala Chhangte collaborated on the right and made overlapping runs down the flank early in the second half in an effort to find Sunil Chhetri. Any threats were, however, avoided by Kuwait’s vigilant defense.

But belief is not in short supply in this squad. This is not a team that will crowd its goal and hoof out clearances hoping to win the second ball. They will, at least against some teams, try and play through the middle or use the speed of Kuruniyan and Chhangte and the full backs. “Why do you think I have spent four years working on the muscles of these boys,” Stimac often says. The answer to the rhetorical question lies in the energy and speed India has shown through 2023.

The match had to go into overtime since the scores were tied at 1-1 at the end of regulation time.

Both teams had numerous opportunities to win the game in extra time, but neither was able to score the winning goal. As a result, the game went into an exciting penalty shootout, which India won.

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