AIFF Media Team
BENGALURU: Group A's table-toppers India and Kuwait lock horns in the last group match of the Bangabandhu SAFF Championship 2023, at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru, on Tuesday, June 27, 2023.
Both teams are level on points (6) and goal difference (+6) and have already qualified for the semi-finals. As such, the winners will determine who tops the group and takes on the second-placed side from Group B in the last four. For India, only a win will earn them pole position since they trail Kuwait on goals scored.
“Result-wise, there's not much in it apart from getting a bit easier opponents in the semi-final. We'll approach this game as any other game and try to win it. Keeping a clean sheet is always our first goal,” said head coach Igor Stimac, reiterating the significance of his strong defence, which hasn't conceded in the last eight matches.
“If it's a draw, so be it. We'll still go out to ensure we progress from the semi-finals. We need to look at the tournament as a whole. If it's possible to win every game, it's even better. If not, the final aim is always to win the title," he added.
Stimac served his one-match suspension in the last game against Nepal, where the Blue Tigers made sure not to feel his absence and ran out 2-0 winners. There were eight changes to the side that thrashed Pakistan on the opening day, and while India struggled to get into gear in the first half, they got the job done in the second.
"We made a lot of changes in the last game to make sure we've got everybody fit, ready and motivated. Against Nepal, we didn't execute the first half well as we didn't stick to the plan. We weren't marking tightly and winning aerial duels. We changed a few things, and the second half worked to perfection, I would say. Some phenomenal moves and passing," stated Stimac.
India have faced Kuwait three times at the senior level (one win, two defeats). The previous meeting came in a 2010 friendly in Abu Dhabi, which ended up in a 1-9 hammering for India. The only time the Blue Tigers beat the West Asians was in a 3-2 friendly win in 2004 in Kuwait City.
Kuwait may now be ranked 143, but that doesn't divulge their true quality, according to Stimac. "I think Kuwait's ranking is underestimated. They've had phenomenal performances in the last six months against strong Asian sides. They are a very quality team," assessed the Croatian.
Led by Portuguese head coach Rui Bento, Kuwait have won seven of their last eight matches, including against the UAE, Tajikistan, Philippines and Zambia. In the SAFF Championship, they beat Nepal 3-1 before drubbing Pakistan 4-0.
Like India, Kuwait also made a host of changes for their second game - nine to be exact - but still registered a comfortable victory, demonstrating their bench strength. “We made several changes to keep our players from getting tired. I have confidence in all of them,” said Bento.
“I look for the development of our players in every game. That’s most important at the moment for us. More than focussing on India, our focus is on ourselves as we can only control our game, not the opponents’,” Bento added.