India 1-1 Kuwait: 10-men Blue Tigers fail to finish top of their SAFF Championship 2023 group after conceding last-gasp equalizer

India drew 1-1 with Kuwait in the SAFF Championship 2023 on Saturday.
India drew 1-1 with Kuwait in the SAFF Championship 2023 on Saturday.

A late goal saw India draw 1-1 with Kuwait in their SAFF Championship 2023 clash on Wednesday, June 27. Sunil Chhetri put the hosts ahead in the first half at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru before Anwar Ali's own-goal saw the visitors restore parity deep into second-half stoppage time.

Coach Igor Stimac and substitute Rahim Ali were both sent off for India.

Kuwait began the match well, pouring men forward in the first minute before a wayward cross put an end to their first attack. They also created the second chance of the game when a stunning crossfield ball over the top from Eid Al-Rashidi was volleyed over the crossbar.

India, meanwhile, responded by tightening up their high press and began suffocating the visitors, who had to depend more on counter-attacks. The Blue Tigers, especially Chhetri, were afforded very little space in the central part of the final third, though, and failed to get any shots away.

They did create a half-chance after Naorem Mahesh Singh found Akash Mishra down the left. Mishra whipped a devilish cross into the box that just evaded Chhetri, who had escaped his marker.

Much of India's play came from the wings, with Mahesh especially testing his defender on multiple occasions. Lallianzuala Chhangte, on the other flank, had limited touches, but still delivered a couple of teasing crosses that Kuwait did well to clear.

The Blue Wave went close to opening the lead midway through the first half after a block by Sandesh Jhingan fell to Al-Rashidi, who fired an effort on goal. While Amrinder Singh did well to save at his near-post and after a few moments of confusion, the hosts were given a free-kick for offside in the build-up.

India continued to threaten down the flanks, with Mahesh's balls into the box causing Kuwait some problems. They also led to multiple corners, one of which, taken by Anirudh Thapa, was headed wide by Anwar Ali, one of the Blue Tigers' standout players of the first half.

The visitors responded with another counter-attack, once again working the ball well to find Al-Rashidi after some slick passing. However, his effort was tame and easily saved by Amrinder.

India were starting to find chinks in the Kuwait armour, though, and eventually got their goal in first-half stoppage time.

Mahesh and Mishra once again combined well down the left before the former whipped a superb cross into the box. It was cleared at the far-post for a corner, which Thapa once again floated into a good area. This time around, Chhetri met it with the perfect volley to slam it past the goalkeeper and give his side the lead.

Igor Stimac's men almost doubled their lead before half-time after Kuwait committed men forward for a corner. Chhetri, Jeakson Singh and Mahesh were all involved in a quickfire move before Mishra set Ashique Kuruniyan free. However, Ashique's effort was well over the crossbar.

With that, the first half of a thoroughly entertaining encounter reached its conclusion.

Kuwait find last-gasp equalizer after Igor Stimac and Rahim Ali are sent off for India

As was the case in the first half, Kuwait began on the front foot after the break. However, it was India who created the first good chance of the second half.

Naorem Mahesh Singh did brilliantly to keep the ball in play down the right before recovering to send a cross in. It took a deflection and reached Ashique Kuruniyan at the far-post, but the forward sent his half-volley just over the crossbar.

The Blue Wave's first chance of the half followed shortly after as they won a free-kick in a promising area. Ahmad Al-Dhefiri stepped up and got a solid effort on goal, but Amrinder Singh did well to palm it over for a corner.

India continued to stifle the visitors' forays forward while creating a few chances of their own. One of them was created by Nikhil Poojari's splendid run forward and a cross, which Kuwait looked to clear. However, Sunil Chhetri won the ball back and it reached Jeakson Singh, whose shot was deflected wide.

This was followed by a chance for substitute Sahal Abdul Samad after some excellent approach play, but his shot was also blocked out for a corner. Kuwait then broke on the counter after a mistake in the Indian midfield.

However, Sandesh Jhingan made a brilliant recovery tackle to stop Shabib Al-Khaldi from going through on goal.

From there on, however, it all went south for the Blue Tigers.

Igor Stimac, who had been cautioned earlier, was sent off for the second game in a row after an argument with the fourth official. As the game grew more physical, Sahal was on the receiving end of a shove after stopping Kuwait from taking the ball for a free-kick.

Substitute Rahim Ali got caught up in the melee that followed and was sent off seemingly before he even got five touches on the ball. The confusion also saw Kuwait's Hamad Al Qallaf given his own marching orders.

A man and their coach down, the Blue Tigers had handed Kuwait the ascendancy with eight minutes added on. The Blue Wave capitalized on that and equalized via an Anwar Ali own-goal following an excellent cross from the right in the second minute of stoppage time.

It was enough to guarantee them a first-place finish in Group A of the SAFF Championship.

They will now take on the team that finishes second in the other group, while India will meet the winners of that group, expected by many to be Lebanon. Both matches will take place on Saturday, June 30, at the same venue.

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Edited by Anantaajith Raghuraman
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