Kuwait vs India: Preview and Prediction
It’s time for the final chapter of the 2023 edition of the SAFF Championship where only two teams have survived to take part in the final bout.
Kuwait has marched into the finals of the sub-confederation tournament in their very first appearance but now they will have to face the most decorated South Asian country. An action-packed contest between the hosts India and CAFA representatives will be staged at the tournament’s solitary venue, Sree Kanteerava Stadium of Bengaluru this Tuesday.
Al-Azraq accepted the invitation from SAFF to participate in the federation’s premier event and joined the roster as the third highest-ranked participant after Lebanon and India. Kuwait has dominated this competition according to its reputation and topped the Group A table after edging past India in order to earn the semifinal qualification.
The Middle Eastern Blues have already joined the likes of Maldives and Sri Lanka to make it to finals in their debut appearance and now they have a golden opportunity to replicate India’s feat of gracing the champions podium in the same edition.
After being considered a strong contender for the title right from the start, India did not lose their concentration midway and thrashed all obstacles on their road to the SAFF Championship finals.
The Blue Tigers who are making their 14th appearance in this competition have finished among the two 13 times and also bagged on eight occasions. Even the continuous absence of the Indian gaffer Igor Stimac did not break the determination of the Men in Blues from their ultimate aim.
Kuwait’s undefeated streak in international football has reached nine games and the head coach Rui Bento is eager to turn it into double-digit with a trophy. They are having a deadly goal-scoring form after having scored a joint-most number of goals (8), averaging 2 goals per match and only conceding two in four appearances in this tournament.
However, the Middle Eastern Blues’ attack may struggle against a compact defensive unit as it took them more than 105 minutes to finally break the deadlock against Bangladesh despite having 71% possession and 11 shots on target.
On the other hand, India is thriving on a triumphant run and has outclassed each and every opponent they have faced in this international season. The Indian roster will be turning up for this final encounter with high spirits after defeating the Lebanese Cedars twice in the span of two weeks. An injury-time own goal from the central defender Anwali Ali remains the only goal conceded by the Indian defense across 11 matches since June 2022.
These two Asian heavyweights have shared the same battlefield on four occasions till now and the head-to-head record of those encounters currently rules in the favour of Kuwait with two wins. Meanwhile, the Blue Tigers registered their first-ever victory over the Central Asian opponents in 2003 which still stands as their only triumph.
It was the grand stage of the 1978 Bangkok Asian Games where they collided with each other for the first time and the Middle Eastern combatants emerged victorious with a convincing 6-1 victory. It was followed by two international friendly meetings that occurred in 2004 and 2009 where both teams bagged one win each.
The most recent chapter of this rivalry was staged in the final Group A match of this very same competition which was the decider game for the table-toppers. India was leading the scoreline by 1-0 until the game entered into stoppage time where an own-goal error from Anwar Ali restricted them to the second position. The clash also saw the Indian youngster Rahim Ali and the Kuwaiti defender Hamad Al Qallaf receiving red cards in the decisive moments and igniting the build-up for this forthcoming contest.
Igor Stimac was handed a two-match suspension for disciplinary reasons after receiving his second red card of this campaign during India’s last face-off with Al-Azraq. The 43-year-old former Indian international, Mahesh Gawli will be taking charge on the sidelines for the final in the absence of the Croatian gaffer.
India’s defensive rock Sandesh Jhingan will be returning back into the starting XI after serving a one-match suspension as a consequence of receiving two consecutive yellow cards. The Bengali full-back duo of Pritam Kotal and Subhasish Bose made a surprising start in the penultimate clash with Lebanon and are likely to make way for Akash Mishra and Nikhil Poojary.
The Al-Azraq side made a whopping number of seven changes in their lineup for the semi-final game and is expected to make furthermore for the final one. Abdullah Al Fahed is likely to be left out for yet another game as the 25-year-old Al-Arabi Abdullah Al Baloushi has sealed his right-back position after scoring the winner against Bangladesh.
Hamad Al Qallaf will be once again available for the selection and is expected to get the nod ahead of Hussain Ali Muhaisen who donned the right-back position in his absence. We may also get to see Shabib Al Khaldi lining up with his teammates at the kick-off whistle as the Kuwaiti offense had a forgettable day without the Kazma forward.
Predicted Starting XIs
Kuwait (4-3-3): Abdulrahman Kameel; Abdullah Al Baloushi, Khalid El Ebrahim ©, Hasan Al Enezi, Hamad Al Qallaf; Fawaz Al Otaibi, Hamad Al Harbi, Ali Khalaf; Eid Naser Al Rashedi, Shabib Al Khaldi, Mubarak Al Faneni
India (4-2-3-1): Gurpreet Singh Sandhu; Nikhil Poojary, Sandesh Jhingan, Anwar Ali, Akash Mishra; Anirudh Thapa, Jeakson Singh; Lallianzuala Chhangte, Sahal Abdul Samad, Ashique Kuruniyan; Sunil Chhetri ©
It is quite difficult to predict the winner of this contest as both of the combatants stand equal on aspects such as on-paper strength and current form. Moreover, the climax of their previous encounter will be driving both of them in leaving no stone unturned to have a last laugh. Despite the glorious head-to-head record of Kuwait, India is still having a slight advantage of knocking out a bigger opposition in the penultimate round.