Bengaluru: In a nail-biting semifinal match at the SAFF Championship 2023, the Indian men’s football team showcased their resilience and skill as they defeated Lebanon 4-2 in a penalty shootout. The victory secured their spot in the highly anticipated final, where they will face Kuwait in a bid to claim the championship title. In the other semifinal clash earlier in the day, Kuwait emerged victorious with a narrow 1-0 win over Bangladesh.
The intense semifinal encounter between India and Lebanon saw both teams fiercely battling for the coveted spot in the final. However, despite regulation time and extra time failing to produce a winner, it was the penalty shootout that ultimately decided the outcome. Hassan Maatouk and Khalil Bader of Lebanon faltered under pressure, missing their penalties, while India’s players remained composed, converting all four of their spot-kicks.
This victory for the Indian team comes as no surprise, given their recent success against Lebanon. Just earlier this year, India triumphed over Lebanon by a 2-0 margin in the Intercontinental Cup 2023 final. Evidently, the Indian team has managed to maintain their dominance over their opponents and carry their winning momentum into the SAFF Championship.
The Indian team’s path to the final has been marked by an impressive display of talent and teamwork. In their last Group A match, India played out a 1-1 draw against Kuwait, following an emphatic 4-0 victory over Pakistan in their opening encounter. The team’s standout performers have been Captain Sunil Chhetri, who has been a constant threat in the attacking third, and goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh, whose crucial saves have kept India in contention throughout the tournament.
However, India’s pursuit of the championship will face some hurdles as they enter the final without two key figures. Sandesh Jhingan, the formidable defender, received a suspension due to his second yellow card in the previous match against Kuwait. Additionally, head coach Igor Stimac will be absent from the sidelines after his second red card offence in the last match. Nonetheless, the Indian team remains determined and confident as they strive to secure the championship trophy.
The semifinal match against Lebanon saw India’s relentless attacking approach, pushing forward to create opportunities. Lebanon had their chances too, with Zein Farran’s goal attempt being thwarted by the agile Indian goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh. The Indian team persisted, with Sahal Abdul Samad and Jeakson Singh linking up well, but Ali Dhaini’s interception denied India a breakthrough.
As the match progressed, India intensified their efforts to secure victory within regulation time, making tactical substitutions to bolster their attack. Lallianzuala Chhangte’s darting run and shot threatened Lebanon’s defence, but Mehdi Khalil’s crucial save denied India’s breakthrough. With time running out, India made a final push to score, but the resilient Lebanon defence held firm. Assistant coach Mahesh Gawli’s substitution of Udanta Singh for Ashique Kuruniyan in the dying moments was a last-ditch effort to find the winning goal but proved unsuccessful.
With both teams unable to break the deadlock after 90 minutes, the match entered extra time. In the first half of extra time, India’s captain Sunil Chhetri came close to seizing the lead on two occasions, only to be denied by Lebanon’s resolute defense. The second half of extra time witnessed an intense battle between both teams, but neither could find the back of the net, setting the stage for a dramatic penalty shootout.
Udanta Singh, Mahesh, Anwar Ali, and Chhetri found the net for India during the penalties.