Bengaluru: Goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu was the hero once again as India defeated Kuwait 5-4 via sudden death penalties in the final to defend the SAFF Championship title at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium here.
The win added another chapter to India’s glorious history in the SAFF Championship as the Blue Tigers created football history to win the Bangabandhu SAFF Championship 2023 title. This was a record-extending ninth title triumph for India in the SAFF Championship and what makes it sweeter is that in the process, India defeated both the guest teams — Lebanon in the semifinals and Kuwait in the final.
In the summit clash of what was the biggest and most competitive SAFF Championship ever, Sandhu’s winning save etched India’s ninth sub-continental title, adding another chapter to the nation’s regional supremacy. The game ended 1-1 after 120 minutes; Shabaib Al-Khaldi had put Kuwait in front early on, and newly-crowned AIFF Player of the Year Lallianzuala Chhangte equalised later in the first half.
With this win, Igor Stimac becomes the first foreign head coach to win back-to-back SAFF Championship titles. This was also the first time that India defeated two West Asian countries in back-to-back matches, after winning the semi-final against Lebanon, also on penalties.
It was a cautious start to the game, with both sides trying to keep hold of the ball and build from the back. India registered the first shot on target, a rather weak one as Lallianzuala Chhangte’s header from an Akash Mishra cross fell straight into the gloves of Abdulrahman Marzouq.
Kuwait took the lead with a meticulously-crafted move in the final third. Mobarak Al-Faneeni sprayed the ball to right-back Abdullah Al-Bloushi, whose cutback was slotted into the net by an unmarked Shabaib Al-Khaldi right outside the six-yard box.
The hosts, not feeling let down one bit fed on the thunderous support of the capacity crowd almost equalised in the very next minute. Chhangte’s powerful left-footed strike from the edge of the box was saved by Marzouq before Chhetri rushed in to meet the rebound, but Khaled Hajiah cleared it away.
Sandhu was the hero of the night, as he saved the last penalty of the SAFF Championship final by Kuwait captain Haijah, to win India their ninth title.