The SAFF Championship 2023 has concluded, with the hosts ultimately lifting the title. India drifted the victory right from under the nose of Kuwait in the penalty round. The entire gameplay was neck-to-neck, or toe-to-toe. Every metaphor is sure to come no way closer to how the action rolled in the concluding moments of the championship.
Sunil Chhetri bagged the Golden Boot and Golden Ball for scoring the maximum number of goals, five, during the tournament. The Indian captain was further elevated when the crowd started chanting Vande Mataram before the group photo. To be fair, everyone watching that live had pride on their shoulders and tears in their eyes, and for all the right reasons, one can say.
This is the 9th SAFF title for India, coming after clinching a win against the team that managed to draw the result in their last meet. Kuwait shocked Sunil and Co. by coming out in a strong manner. Not that sports are supposed to be easy giveaways, but a fight like that was unexpected.
This is evident from the moment when the Indian team gave the Guard of Honor to Kuwait for their incredible performance. Gurpreet Singh Sandhu was the man on the final edge. His save gave India the win.
All of it was in the penalty shootout, where India was leading 2-0. It was at that point that Kuwait inched up the scoreboard. The final result was tallied at 4-4, with Udanta Singh missing the shot for India and Mohammad Daham missing his chance for Kuwait.
Five shots later, it was a matter of sudden death for both sides. A single miss against the net hands the victory over to the team. India shot first to fool Kameel successfully. Naorem Mahesh became the last to score as Khalid Ebrahim missed his chance of getting the ball past Sandhu.
India had previously won the SAFF Championship in 1993, 1997, 1999, 2005, 2009, 2011 (also the year when the Indian cricket team brought home the ODI World Cup for the second time), 2015, and then in 2021. This year was the opportunity to defend the title, which India did in their own backyard.
The Blue Tigers skipper thanked everyone for pitching in, saying that Kuwait was not an easy side to play against. The message was loud and clear for over 26,000 fans in the stadium, who later joined their champions for a victory lap.
Shabib scored the opener in the 14th minute and received an equalizer from Chhangte in the 38th minute. Figures make it more obvious that the match was indeed a close one. Despite many of the best online football betting sites being split over the result, what worked for India was the accuracy of hitting shots on target.
Sree Kanteerava Stadium experienced the action live, seeing Nepal win the Fair Play Award and Anisur Rehman from Bangladesh take home the award for the Best Goalkeeper.