India Asia

SAFF Championship 2023: India win thrilling penalty shootout to claim ninth title


India defeated Kuwait by 5-4 in the penalty shootout of the final of the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Championship at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru on Tuesday. The match ended 1-1 in regulation time of the summit clash, which led to players from both sides taking penalty shots from the spot for the coveted title.

When Gurpreet Singh Sandhu saved the final shot of the penalty shoot-out from Kuwait captain Khalid El-Ebrahim, the Indian fans, who had filled the Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru to the brim, celebrated like never before as the hosts had won their record ninth title at the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Championship. India won on the penalty shoot-out 5-4 after the match ended 1-1 in regulation time (90 minutes) plus extra time (30 minutes).

Mahesh Naorem scored but Sandhu saved Kuwait captain Khaled Hajiah’s shot to the wild celebration of the home fans and at the India dugout.

Earlier in the evening, visitors Kuwait, who are not part of the SAFF but one of the two invited members alongside Lebanon from the West Asian Football Federation (WAFF), took the lead with a goal from Shabib Al Khaldi in the 14th minute. India was in shock for some time before realizing what had happened.

After realizing that they were behind, the Indian players pulled things back and winger Lalrinzuala Chhangte brought the Blue Tigers back on level terms. It was a cross from Sahal Abdul Smad that Chhangte netted. However, the ball was made by Ashique Kuruniyan who won it from the Kuwaiti defence and then passed on to Chhetri who threaded it to Sahal.
Just before the goal, Anwar Ali had to be stretched away after he was injured. Mehtab Singh replaced him.

Defending champions India and Kuwait had also played out a 1-1 draw in their last group match.

The second half as well as the two extra times ended in zero goals, but six yellow cards. Four of the six cards went to Kuwait, who wanted to get the match into the penalty shoot-out more than anything else. Gurpreet Singh saved a certain goal in the 92nd minute. Chhangte, who was awarded the senior player of the year (male) award by All India Football Federation (AIFF) earlier today, hit one over the bar in the extra time, failing to give India the lead.

This was the second time India won in the penalty shootout. They had made it to Tuesday’s summit clash after beating Lebanon 4-2 in penalty shootout in the semifinal on July 1. Sandhu had also made a crucial save in the shootout then.

Regulation time ended with scores level at 1-1, forcing the match into extra time.

Both teams had several chances to clinch the match in the extra time but neither could score the decisive goal as the final progressed into the penalty shootout, where India claimed a thrilling win.

En route to the final, the Indian football team beat Lebanon in the semi-finals after finishing the group stage with wins over Pakistan and Nepal while drawing against Kuwait.

For India, captain Sunil Chhetri, Sandesh Jhingan, Chhangte, Subasish Bose and Mahesh converted while Udanta Singh missed.