Sunil Chhetri in action for India in SAFF Championship© AIFF
Sunil Chhetri worked his magic but India had to split points with Kuwait after an acrimonious 1-1 draw in their last group match in the SAFF Championship on Tuesday. Chhetri had put India on the road to victory with an injury-time strike in the first half but an own goal by Anwar Ali in the added time of the second half spoiled the home side’s march. This was also the first goal India conceded in nine matches. The result meant that India and Kuwait ended up on seven points but the latter topped Group A on better goal average. India will play Lebanon in the semifinal while Kuwait will take on either Bangladesh or Maldives. Already qualified for the semifinal, both India and Kuwait pressed forward from the whistle, giving some entertaining moments.
India organised their attacks through both the wings while Kuwait mainly relied on sorties through the left flank during that passage.
The Blue Tigers nearly went ahead in the sixth minute but Chhetri failed to connect with a cross from Akash Mishra by a whisker. Kuwait too had their own chance when Shadab Al Khaldi’s ripper of a shot from just outside the box went inches over the bar in the 20th minute.
But, slowly but surely, India snatched the control of the match and they could have netted the first goal in the 35th minute but Anwar Ali’s header off an Anirudh Thapa corner lacked the desired direction.
India’s persistent tries bore fruit in the injury time. Thapa took a rather low flag kick from the right side and Chhetri effected a classy, tumbling volley to beat Kuwait goalkeeper Abdul Rahman, whose desperate dive went in vain.
It was Chhetri’s fifth goal of this tournament from three matches and overall 24th goal in 26 SAFF championship matches.
Armed with a 1-0 lead, India went ahead in full steam in the second half but saw their head coach Igor Stimac being sent off with a red card, second time in this tournament.
Stimac engaged in an animated argument with match officials and was eventually flashed a red card in the 81st minute. The Croatian was earlier given marching orders in the match against Pakistan for interrupting their player from taking a throw-in.
But the harsh moments did not end there as India’s Rahim Ali and Kuwait’s Al Qallaf were sent off.
The melee ensued after Qallaf pushed down India’s Sahal Abdul Samad in the 84th minute and Rahim, in turn, pushed the Kuwait player to the ground. After that there was not enough time for either side to force a result.
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