Kuwait vs Bangladesh: Preview and Prediction
After an enthralling action in the group stage, the roster of the 2023 SAFF Championship has been narrowed down to only four teams who will be now quarrelling in the knockout round.
The first semi-final clash of the sub-confederation tournament will feature the guests Kuwait who are eying to turn their maiden appearance into a maiden glory. The anticipated penultimate encounter between Al-Azraq and the Bangladesh side will take place at Bengaluru’s Sree Kanteerava Stadium this fantastic Friday.
Along with Lebanon, Kuwait is one of the two nations from the WAFF sub-confederation that were invited for this edition of the SAFF Championship as guest participants. The main intention of the SAFF of this invitation from outside their region was to uphill the competition standards and the presence of the Al-Azraq side has evidently fulfilled it. The Middle Eastern Blues turned down India’s claim to top the Group A table after having scored one goal more (8) than the hosts (7).
Bangladesh is regarded as the third most decorated SAFF nation after making it to the semi-final stages of the championship five times in 12 appearances and also clinching the title once. However, the Bangla Tigers failed to qualify for the penultimate stages for the straight five editions before finally achieving it this season. Under the guidance of the Spanish gaffer Javier Fernandez Cabrera, the Red and Greens roster is spirited to replicate their heroics of 2003.
Kuwait is thriving on an undefeated streak of eight games as their last defeat at the international stage was in the group stages of the 2023 Gulf Cup at the hands of the reigning Asian champions Qatar. Since then Al-Azraq Army has detained many higher-ranked Asian counterparts such as UAE, Bahrain, India, Tajikistan, and the Philippines while conceding only four games in those eight fixtures.
The Blue Tigers came very close to breaking the streak in their last group game but eventually, an injury-time own goal from the Indian central defender Anwali Ali saved the day for the Kuwaitis.
The Bangla Tigers had a forgettable start to the SAFF Championship campaign after losing the opening fixture to the heavyweights Lebanon by 2-0. It was followed by a quick turnaround staged by the Men in Green when they handed a 3-1 defeat to the Maldives despite going down to 1-0 in the 17th minute which kept their semi-final hopes alive.
Bangladesh roster then headed towards their final group fixture with Bhutan which was also a virtual quarter-final clash where Cabrera’s army registered an emphatic 3-1 triumph and barged into the penultimate round in style.
These two Asian counterparts have clashed with each other on the competitive international stage only on two occasions to date. The Blue Wave has cherished an invincible head-to-head record over the South Asian combatants after emerging victorious on both occasions.
The first-ever clash between Kuwait and the Bangla Tigers was staged in the 1973 edition of the Malaysian Merdeka Tournament. It was the group stage of the international competition where Al-Azraq ended up on the winning side of the 2-1 saga and also went on to finish the campaign as runners-up.
After a long halt of 13 years, both of the combatants once again graced the same platform but this time it was a bigger stage as the continental glory was on the line. They shared the same battlefield in the opening Group D fixture of the 1986 Seoul Asian Games hosted by Daejeon Stadium where the Kuwaiti Blues registered a convincing 4-0 win. Bangladesh couldn’t go further in the group stages while Kuwait went on to defeat the likes of Japan and China to claim the Bronze medal at Asiad.
The Portuguese head coach of the Kuwaiti Blues, Rui Bento has entrusted the 4-2-3-1 formation throughout the group stages and is likely to do the same in the knockout round as well. After resting his key players in the Pakistan game, Bento went back to his full-strength lineup against India hence we may not see many changes for this crucial encounter as well.
The star left-back defender Hamad Al Qallaf will have to serve a one-match suspension after receiving a red card in the 90th minute of the India clash. Qallaf is likely to be replaced by the 24-year-old Hussain Ali Muhaisen who featured in the starting eleven against Pakistan in the absence of the former.
As a consequence of their opening fixture, Bangladesh head coach Javier Cabrera discarded the 4-3-3 formation and switched back to 4-4-2. The change has turned the tables for the Red and Greens as the inclusion of the holding midfielder Mohammad Ridoy has brought stability to this unit which is evident in their past two fixtures.
The 17-year-old teenage sensation Shekh Morsalin who got his first start in the tournament against Bhutan is likely to retain his place. Meanwhile, there’s a high possibility for the return of the Finland-born central defender Tariq Kazi into the Bangla lineup while Bishwanath Ghosh may switch back to his original right-back position.
Predicted Starting XIs
Kuwait (4-2-3-1): Abdulrahman Kameel; Abdullah Al Fahed, Hamad Al Harbi, Hasan Al Enezi, Hussain Ali Muhaisen; Sultan Al Enezi, Redha Hani; Eid Naser Al Rashedi, Ahmed Al Dhaferi, Mohammad Abdullah Daham; Shabib Al Khaldi
Bangladesh (4-4-2): Anisur Rahman Zico; Bishwanath Ghosh, Tariq Kazi, Topu Barman, Isa Faysal; Mohamed Sohel Rana, Mohammad Ridoy, Jamal Bhuyan, Sohel Rana; Rakib Hossain, Sheikh Morsalin
The Blue Wave’s core strength lies in their star-studded attacking lineup starring the 24-year-old Shabib Al-Khaldi who has netted three international goals in June 2023. On the other hand, the defense has emerged as the weakest link in the Bangla Tigers roster which is yet to keep a clean sheet in this tournament and conceded the first goal on all three occasions.
The Men in Green have proved their capability of staging a counter-attack despite conceding the first goal but the performance of their defensive department will determine whether they will be able to daunt the favorites Kuwait or will fall flat on their faces.