India won and the social media went into a tizzy.
From the biggest ministers to cricketers to IPL teams, congratulatory messages poured in after a historic night at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru on Tuesday.
On the ground, the atmosphere was even more special. 26,380 fans sang “Vande Mataram” to leave the players emotional and elated.
SAFF Championship, India vs Kuwait: Blue Tigers need composure and goals
Watch: Crowd chants ‘Vande Mataram’, Gurpreet saves penalty and highlights from India’s SAFF Championship win
The most heartening fact was this was the nation celebrating the victory of the football team as Sunil Chhetri-led India won the SAFF championship 2023.
India crowned champions, yet again! The Blue Tigers reign supreme at the #SAFFChampionship2023! Congrats to our players. The Indian Team’s remarkable journey, powered by the determination and tenacity of these athletes, will continue to inspire upcoming sportspersons. pic.twitter.com/DitI0NunmD
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) July 5, 2023
The Indian team had been here before. Indian football? Maybe not.
It was India’s ninth sub-continental title in 14 editions.
On a rainy and cold weeknight, the hosts were given a proper challenge by a doughty Kuwait who were a completely different side to their semi-final win against Bangladesh.
On Saturday, Kuwait sat back and defended in numbers. Against India, they were quick, persistent and dangerous. The Blue Tigers were slow to get off the blocks and the pressure had its impact.
Shabaib Al Khaldi gave Kuwait the lead in the 14th minute after a polished move that involved Mobarak Alfaneeni releasing Abdullah Albloushi who put in a low cross from the right resulting in a goal.
Behind for the first time since September 2022 (vs Vietnam), India responded immediately with Lallianzuala Chhangte taking a long-range shot that was saved by goalkeeper Mubarak Marzouq and Chhetri failed to capitalise on the rebound.
The team sensed blood. The crow sensed blood.
“India! India!” rang around the stadium as the Blue Tigers kept stitching passes in search of an equaliser.
That came in the 38th minute as Ashique Kuruniyan dodged flurry of bodies to locate Chhetri at the edge of the box. The veteran played a first-time pass to Sahal Abdul Samad in the box who squared the ball for Chhangte to rock the Kanteerava.
The second half witnessed more half-chances as work rate for both teams went down after a high-intense opening. The intention appeared to be to not concede and indiscipline kicked in. 10 yellow cards were dished out by referee Prajwol Chetri – six of which went to Kuwait players.
1-1 in 90 minutes invited extra time which also proved unsuccessful and penalties were called upon.
For India in the shootout, Sunil Chhetri, Sandesh Jhingan, Lallianzuala Chhangte and Subhashish Bose converted from the spot while Udanta Singh missed. Mohammed Abdullah slammed the first Kuwait penalty onto the top bar, but Fawaz Alotaibi, Ahmad Aldhefeery, Abdulaziz Mahran and Shabaib Alkhaldi scored to stretch the shootout into sudden death.
Naorem Mahesh Singh found the back of the net on the decisive penalty while the ever-reliable and one of Bengaluru’s favourite sons, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, dived to his left to keep out Khaled Hajiah’s effort and secure a famous win on penalties for India.
Having beaten Lebanon in the semi-finals, it was the first time India defeated two West Asian countries in consecutive matches.
And not just this, everything around the SAFF Championship win felt like uncharted territory.
This was India’s third title victory in 2023 after Tri-Nation Friendly Tournament win in Manipur in March and the Intercontinental Cup triumph in Bhubaneswar last month. They are now unbeaten in the last 11 games, winning nine and only conceding twice.
The unbeaten run, title victories, the positive publicity has earned this team goodwill that should see it dominate the newspaper and TV headlines. The fight on the pitch and the beauty of the game saw a non-traditional venue like Bengaluru give its all to the team; its people pour into the stadium in big numbers every game to support the Blue Tigers.
Hopefully, it has also triggered a wave of inspiration for the next generation.
- India unleash new wave of football love with SAFF Championship win
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