Senior National Team
India play goalless draw against Kuwait as Chhetri bids adieu to international football
06 Jun 2024

India 0
drew with
Kuwait 0

Akhil Rawat
AIFF Media Team

KOLKATA: India's hopes for qualifying for the third round of the FIFA World Cup 2026 and AFC Asian Cup 2027 Preliminary Joint Qualification took a hit as they were held 0-0 by Kuwait in their penultimate Group A game at the Salt Lake Stadium on Thursday, June 6, 2024.

In what was Sunil Chhetri's 151st and last dance in Indian colours, victory may have eluded him at the full-time whistle, but emotions couldn't. After a lap around the 58,921 fans at the Salt Lake Stadium, the captain, leader, legend, let out his farewell tears when the Indian players and team officials gave him a guard of honour to the tunnel. In a warm gesture, each one of Kuwait's players and officials also paid their respects with handshakes and hugs with the Indian skipper.

As far as the match is concerned, it was far from a drab affair, with a host of chances at both ends, particularly in the first half. But some top-notch defending and fine saves reduced the contest to a goalless one.

Igor Stimac handed out a full India debut to left-back Jay Gupta, while Edmund Lalrindika came on in the last seven minutes in Gupta's place to make his debut too.

With the draw, India remain in second place with five points (Qatar will play Afghanistan later in the day), but importantly for Kuwait, they stay alive with four points. India will now hope for Qatar's victory over Afghanistan, and a draw between Kuwait and Afghanistan on June 11. In that scenario, a point for India against Qatar in five days' time in Doha will be enough to progress to the third round.

Kuwait made the earliest inroad in the fifth minute when left-winger Mohammad Abdulah shouldered his way into the box and came one-on-one with Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, but the Indian custodian stood strong, sticking his leg out to make a vital save early on.

India also responded with frantic pace on the left courtesy of Liston Colaco, who raced his way past the Kuwait right-back and put in a low cross, but Hasan Alanezi stabbed the ball clear for the visitors. India had their first shot from the resulting Anirudh Thapa corner, with an unmarked Anwar Ali heading it inches over the bar.

In the 25th minute, both teams had their heart-in-the-mouth moments in the space of a few seconds. First, it was Eid Alrashidi breaking the offside trap to stray clear on goal before dinking the ball over an onrushing Gurpreet. It landed just wide of the goal net. Immediately after, Jay Gupta burst forward and put an inviting low cross from the left. But Alanezi was on hand again to clear the danger for Kuwait at full stretch.

Slowly and steadily, India grew in confidence and began stringing attacks patiently, mostly utilising the speed of their wingers. Lallianzuala Chhangte got the better of left-back Meshari Alenezi on a couple of occasions and swung in dangerous crosses from the right, but Kuwait actively hacked them clear. Stimac's men were quicker to the second balls as well, winning the ball in the final third and making Kuwait sweat at the back.

On a couple of occasions, Liston also tried his luck from distance, first smashing the side-netting, before skying it wayward from an audacious 40-yard attempt.

At half-time, Stimac made two changes, sacrificing midfielder Thapa to bring on striker Rahim Ali, while Brandon Fernandes replaced Sahal Abdul Samad in the middle.

The start to the second half was as wild as the first. Both goalkeepers were tested to the fullest in and came out on top. Faisal Alharbi's stinging volley from barely six yards out was met with a stunning reflex save from Gurpreet, who dipped his entire 196-centimetre figure to palm it out. A few minutes later, he had to stretch to the top corner to push out Yousef Alsulaiman's effort.

Sandwiched between Gurpreet's heroics was Sulaiman Abdulghafoor's one-on-one save for Kuwait. He made himself big to deny Rahim, who had latched on to a great through ball.

India struggled to maintain their first-half intensity and the tempo shifted towards Kuwait for a while. Substitute Ali Matar got plenty of space near the edge of the box, but he hesitated to shoot early and by the time he did, Rahul Bheke had thrown his body to make a solid block.

For those in blue, time seemed to pass quicker as they were left frustrated by Kuwait slowing down the tempo of the game.

The Blue Tigers sprang to some life in injury time, but it was not enough. Brandon Fernandes flashed a low ball across the face of the goal, but it was Alenezi once again to clear the danger for Kuwait for the umpteenth time on the night. Seconds later, Chhangte picked out Manvir with an inch-perfect cross but the latter nodded it wide of the near post.

Gurpreet Singh Sandhu was named the player of the match.

Both the teams observed a minute's silence before the start of the match, in memory of Anil Kamat, Assistant General Secretary and Director, Competition, AIFF, who passed away on Tuesday, June 4, 2024.

India XI: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu (GK), Nikhil Poojary, Anwar Ali, Rahul Bheke, Jay Gupta (Edmund Lalrindika 83'), Sahal Abdul Samad (Brandon Fernandes 46'), Anirudh Thapa (Rahim Ali 46'), Suresh Singh Wangjam, Liston Colaco (Manvir Singh 70'), Lallianzuala Chhangte, Sunil Chhetri (C).

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