India wins the 2023 SAFF Championship by trouncing Kuwait on penalties
India won the 2023 SAFF Championship by defeating Kuwait in the final. The game ended 1-1 after extra time, where Shabib Al Khaldi scored for Kuwait, while India’s goal was scored by Lallianzuala Chhangte. In the penalties, India clinched a 5-4 win to bag the trophy.
As has been the case all throughout this competition, Kuwait head coach Rui Bento made wholesale changes to his starting XI. Hamad Al Qallaf, Sultan Al Enezi, Reda Hani, Mohammad Abdullah Daham, Ahmed Al Dhefiri, and Al Khaldi were the six players who were handed starts after being rested for the semi-final against Bangladesh.
On the other hand, Mahesh Gawli made two changes in the Indian starting XI as Nikhil Poojary and Akash Mishra were handed starts ahead of Mohun Bagan Super Giant duo Pritam Kotal and Subhasish Bose.
India had the first chance in the 4th minute when Akash Mishra delivered a cross from the left flank and it found Sunil Chhetri, but the Indian captain’s header was straight at the Kuwait keeper, Abdulrahman Kaleem.
It seemed that India had control over the game, but the bubble burst when Kuwait scored the opening goal of the match in the 14th minute of the match. Abdullah found Al-Buloushi with the pass, and the full-back then delivered the ball into the box, with Al Khaldi scoring for the Blues.
Just three minutes later, Chhetri nearly got his team back in the game as he drilled in a shot with great venom, but Kuwait’s shot-stopper was up to the task again. The next few minutes saw a cagey affair between the two teams, as Nepali referee Prajwol Chhetri was forced to flash a few yellow cards to get things under control again.
Amidst all this, India found the equalizer at the perfect time, in the 38th minute of the match. Chhetri was heavily involved in the attack once again as it was his ball into the box which found Sahal Abdul Samad in a great position, but the midfielder chose to find his teammate Chhangte with a neat pass, and the latter did the rest to make the scoreline 1-1.
India could have taken the lead in the first half itself, as barely two minutes after getting the equalizer, another opportunity fell to them. A ball from the right flank found Ashique Kuruniyan inside the box, but the Mariner could not keep his header on target.
The second half had a pretty sedate start and it took nearly 20 minutes for the first chance to arrive, which once again came for the Indians. Chhetri cushioned a delightful header for Chhangte, but the Mumbai City winger could not add a second goal to his tally as his shot was saved by Kaleem.
Although they were on the back seat for most of the second half, Kuwait did create a few opportunities in the last ten minutes. Al Qallaf pulled the trigger from outside the box but lacked accuracy, whereas Abdullah’s free-kick was deflected for a corner by the Indian wall.
The biggest chance arrived in the 92nd minute when Abdullah got into the box with no challenges, but the 23-year-old winger from Al-Nasr could not beat a flying Gurpreet Singh Sandhu with his attempt.
Kuwait nearly took the lead just at the start of the second half when two substitute players combined well for the Blues. Eid Naser Al Rashedi played a delicate back heel that found Abdullah Al Fahed inside the box, but the striker’s attempt was blocked by one of India’s substitutes, Naorem Mahesh Singh.
The East Bengal attacker then received similar treatment just three minutes later, as he himself went for glory but had his attempt blocked by one of Bento’s defenders. The last chance of extra time arrived in the 118th minute, with goal-scorer Chhangte finding himself in a great position once again. This time, it was Poojari who supplied an accurate pass to the winger, but the latter sent his shot wide.
In penalties, Chhetri scored first for India, while having done well in the game, Abdullah missed Kuwait’s first opportunity. This had put Bento’s side under pressure very early on, but a poor attempt from Udanta Singh helped the visitors get back in the game.
The initial round of penalties ended 4-4, with both teams missing a chance each, but Mahesh buried India’s sixth attempt, whereas Gurpreet dived to his left to save the attempt from the Kuwaiti captain, Khaled Ebrahim Hajiah.
With this win, India has now lifted their third trophy in 2023, having previously won the Tri-Nation Series and Intercontinental Cup. They will now travel to Thailand, where they will be competing in the King’s Cup. For Kuwait, this was only their second defeat of the year, having started 2023 with a 0-2 loss against Qatar.