India plays out a 0-0 draw with Kuwait in Sunil Chhetri’s farewell match

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Sunil Chhetri walks off to a standing ovation in his final match for India

The Indian Football Team played out a 0-0 draw against Kuwait in their final home match in the second round of the 2026 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers at the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Kirirangan in Kolkata on Thursday. 

A win would have taken them closer to qualifying for the third round of World Cup Qualifiers for the first time in history but now the Blue Tigers will have to at least draw their encounter against Asian Champions Qatar and hope other results go in their favor. 

India coach Igor Stimac fielded his side in a 4-4-1-1 formation with five changes to the starting eleven that lost 1-2 to Afghanistan in their last fixture. Jay Gupta made his Blue Tigers debut in place of Subhasish Bose as the left back. 

Anirudh Thapa and Suresh Wangjam played in the middle of the park, replacing Lalengmawia Ralte and Jeakson Singh. Sahal Abdul Samad returned from injury in place of Brandon Fernandes in the No. 10 position while Lallianzuala Chhangte replaced Manvir Singh in the right wing. 

Kuwait coach Rui Bento fielded his side in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Sulaiman Abdulghafoor guarding the sticks. Meshari Ghanam, Hassan Hamdan Al-Enezi, Khalid El Ebrahim, and Rashed Al Dosary formed the back four. 

Azbi Shehab and Redha Abujabarah played as the two defensive midfielders ahead of the back four while the trio of Mohammad Daham, Faisal Al-Harbi, and Eid Al Rashedi played ahead of them. Yousef Nasser played as the lone striker upfront. 

Kuwait was on the front foot in the opening exchanges of the game while India stayed behind and tried to pounce on the counter. Daham cut in from the left flank and unleashed a shot but Gurpreet made a save from a one-on-one position in the third minute. 

Kuwait kept on targeting Rahul Bheke and Nikhil Poojary in India’s right flank with Daham once again being in the thick of things in the 9th minute when he tried to curl his shot into the net but Gurpreet plucked the ball from thin air.

India’s first chance came in the 11th minute when Jay Gupta and Liston Colaco combined to go upfront in the left flank with the latter sprinting past his marker. Liston tried to cross the ball towards the middle but Al-Enezi made a timely clearance to concede only a corner-kick. Thapa swung his cross into the box and an unmarked Anwar Ali leaped high in the air to nod the ball but it sailed inches above the crossbar. 

It was Chhangte and Poojary who combined in the 14th minute on the right flank but the former’s shot from outside the box sailed high. Jay Gupta made a darting run by hugging the touchlines in the left flank before crossing it towards the middle in the 25th minute but Al-Enezi made a timely sliding clearance to thwart the danger as Chhetri was lurking behind to tap it home. 

Chhangte’s resultant corner kick was wayward but Thapa lobbed the loose ball towards the middle where Anwar Ali once again towered high in the air to connect the ball with his head. This time his shot was on target but the keeper positioned himself perfectly to collect the ball. 

India kept on growing in the game with Poojary winning a foul in the opposition box in the half-hour mark. Thapa’s free-kick was cleared away while Sahal’s shot on the rebound was blocked. The ball eventually fell into the path of Liston Colaco inside the box whose final shot hit the side netting. 

The Blue Tigers tried to build from behind on the back of a vociferous home crowd who was cheering every forward pass but the Kuwaiti defenders absorbed the pressure and stood tall on every occasion. The first half ended goalless as both sides went into the tunnel with their heads scratching. 

Rahim Ali created an impact after coming on in the second half but failed to score a goal

India made two changes at the stroke of half-time with Brandon Fernandes and Rahim Ali replacing Sahal Abdul Samad and Anirudh Thapa. Chhetri dropped a little behind to allow Rahim to play as the lone striker to make the most of his pace and muscular framework. 

Kuwait nearly took the lead in the 47th minute when Zayid powered his low shot towards the frame of goal but Gurpreet dived perfectly to make the most of his big right hand and palmed it away. 

A minute later, India got their best chance in the game when Rahim Ali found himself in a one-on-one position after collecting a pass from Chhangte and sprinting past the two Kuwaiti center backs who were beaten for pace. However, Abdulghafoor came out of his line just in time and blocked Rahim’s shot from a one-on-one position. 

In the 51st minute, Rahim was once again in the thick of things when he controlled Bheke’s long ball and dashed past his markers. But, his shot was feeble this time and comfortably collected. The action shifted from one end to another quickly as Daham’s cross towards Al Rashedi saw the latter take a shot after beating Gupta but Gurpreet rose up to the occasion once again. 

Al Rashedi’s danger from Kuwait’s right flank once again troubled India in the 55th minute when he dribbled past Suresh Wangjam and Gupta near the touchline and made a back pass towards the box but Brandon made a no nonsense clearance to save India’s blushes. 

Al Rashedi played a touch and go pass and slammed a shot from outside the box in the 60th minute but it was inches wide this time. Rahim Ali took a shot from the right wing but El Ebrahim blocked it acrobatically in the 67th minute to keep the scoreline level. 

Kuwait nearly won a penalty in the 74th minute only for the referee to waive it away. Substitute Ahmed Al-Dhefiri made a cross from deep in the box and Yousef Nasser burst past his marker Anwar Ali after trapping the ball with a deft touch. Ali brought him down inside the box and the replays confirmed that there was no contact with the ball. However, the referee favored the home side and denied the away side a penalty. 

The humid Kolkata ground sapped the energy out of the players as they made misplaced passes in the final third or lost possession to the opposition defenders. Substitute Edmund Lalrindika won a free kick in the final third in the fifth minute of additional time for India and the entire home crowd stood on their feet to support India. But, Fernandes’ corner kick was wayward as the referee soon blew his full time whistle. 

Chhetri had tears in his eyes as India’s hopes of qualifying for the third round of FIFA World Cup Qualifiers for the first time in history seemed all but over. With five points from five matches, the Blue Tigers are positioned second in the points table. 

A win against Asian champions Qatar would take them through to the third round. If they draw against Qatar, they would have to pray that the fixture between Afghanistan and Kuwait ends in a draw as well to secure their third round qualification. 

Afghanistan and Kuwait have five and four points respectively and would be playing for a win to book an automatic qualification berth for the 2027 AFC Asian Cup and a place in the third round of World Cup Qualifiers for the first time in their history.