SAFF Championship 2023: India Beat Lebanon in Penalty Shootout to Make Final
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SAFF Championship 2023: India Beat Lebanon in Penalty Shootout to Make Final

The Indian men’s football team stormed into the final of the SAFF Championship 2023 after a 4-2 penalty shootout win against Lebanon at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru on Saturday.

India, who rose one place to 100th in the latest FIFA rankings, will face Kuwait in the final on Tuesday. Earlier in the day, Kuwait beat Bangladesh 1-0 in the other semi-final.

After 90 minutes of regulation time ended goalless and no winner was established even after extra time, it was down to penalties to decide the semi-final fixture. In the shootout, India scored all four of their penalties while Hassan Maatouk and Khalil Bader missed for Lebanon.  

This was India’s second straight win over Lebanon, having beaten them 2-0 in the final of the Intercontinental Cup 2023 last month.  

En route to the SAFF Championship final, India drew 1-1 with Kuwait in the final Group A clash after beating Pakistan 4-0 in their opening encounter. 

India, playing without the suspended Sandesh Jhingan in the defence and banned head coach Igor Stimac on the touchline, started strong.

The hosts pressed up the pitch and attacked through the wings. However, it was Lebanon, who had the first opportunity to score. Lebanon’s Zein Farran received the ball on the right and shot at goal but Indian goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh made a crucial save.

Despite the scare, India continued to press and attacked in waves. During one such move, Sunil Chhetri’s through-ball found Jeakson Singh on the right, who passed it to Sahal Abdul Samad. However, Lebanon’s Ali Dhaini made a crucial interception to deny India a certain goal.

As the game progressed, India and Lebanon battled to gain control of the game. Both teams came tantalisingly close to scoring in the final quarter but neither side could find the back of the net as the first half ended goalless.

The second half saw India continue to attack in their quest to find the opening goal. Lebanon, meanwhile, maintained possession and looked to breach the India half on the counter. Jeakson Singh, Ashique Kuruniyan and Sunil Chhetri combined effectively to penetrate the Lebanon half with incisive single-touch passes, however, the opponent’s defence held firm to deny India a goal.

Ten minutes into the second half, India introduced Nikhil Poojary to replace Pritam Kotal as they upped the ante in search of the winner in the regulation time. The move almost yielded fruit when Lallianzuala Chhangte dribbled into the Lebanon box and took a crack at goal. However, Lebanon goalkeeper Mehdi Khalil leapt into action to make a crucial save.

As the clock ticked away, India grew in confidence and pushed men forward in their attempt to find the winner but couldn’t unlock the Lebanon defence. India made a last-ditch attempt to score as India assistant coach Mahesh Gawli sent in Udanta Singh in place of Ashique Kuruniyan but the substitution failed to yield any result. 

After 90 minutes of play, neither side could find the back of the net as the match went into extra-time with the scores reading 0-0.

India captain Sunil Chhetri, who was kept silent for most of the match by the Lebanon defenders, had two golden opportunities to put the hosts in front minutes into the first half of the extra time. However, Sunil Chhetri failed to make them count.

Following an end-to-end action in the second half of the extra time both teams failed to break the deadlock as the match went into the penalty shootout, which India won comfortably.

Source : Olympics