Anwar Ali's own goal cancels Sunil Chhetri strike as India draw with Kuwait | Football News - Hindustan Times

SAFF Championship 2023: Anwar Ali's own goal cancels Sunil Chhetri strike as India draw with Kuwait

By, Kolkata
Jun 27, 2023 10:52 PM IST

The 1-1 draw means India finish second behind Kuwait in Group A of the SAFF Championship

“Anwar Ali, Anwar Ali,” went the chant after the 1-1 draw between India and Kuwait; the result pushing the hosts to second place behind the west Asian invitees on goals scored. It was Ali’s own-goal in 90+2 minutes that had cancelled Sunil Chhetri’s strike in 45+2 – meaning Kuwait ended the group league scoring eight goals, one more than India after both finished on seven points – and the crowd was trying to get the young central defender shake it off.

Indian player Sunil Chhetri and Kuwait's Sahal Samad in action during SAFF Championship 2023 match between India and Kuwait(PTI)
Indian player Sunil Chhetri and Kuwait's Sahal Samad in action during SAFF Championship 2023 match between India and Kuwait(PTI)

“Feels like a loss but we need to recuperate and get ready for the semi-finals (against Lebanon),” said Chhetri of the ill-tempered game where Rahim Ali and Kuwait’s Hamad Al Qallaf’s reactions drew red cards in the 90th minute and India head coach Igor Stimac was again punished for his petulance by a second successive eviction in the 81st minute.

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Starved off game time in the second half of the Indian Super League, Chhetri is ending this longer-than-usual season with a bang. The rustiness of the tri-nation competition in Imphal last March is gone and the sharpness is back. This was his 92nd international strike; 24 of them in the SAFF Championship making Chhetri the highest scorer in the history of the competition. He has now scored in five of India’s last six games.

The one on Tuesday came from a side-volley where style, technique and finishing collaborated as equal partners in a successful joint-venture. Anirudh Thapa’s corner-kick fell into a pocket of space and Kuwait took their eyes off the man who has only Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi ahead of him among active players in the all-time goalscorer’s list. By the time Kuwait realised their folly, their half-time was ruined.

Thapa’s ability to find a teammate with corner-kicks was just one of the things he did well at Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru. He had found Ali with one in the 35th but the free header was off target. Six minutes into this final group league game, Thapa, along with Mahesh Naorem and Akash Mishra, had worked past Kuwait but Chhetri couldn’t connect Mishra’s delivery. Till he was substituted, Thapa was the box-to-box player every ISL team would want but only Mohun Bagan would get.

Seconds after the goal, Chhetri, back to goal, found Naorem who played Ashique Kuruniyan through on goal. The volley ballooning over encapsulated why India are dependent on their captain for the bulk of their goals. Early in the second half, Kuruniyan was again off-target but it was from a more difficult angle. This was before Jeakson Singh and Rohit Kumar’s half-chances.

Once ranked 24th in the world and part of the 1982 World Cup, Kuwait have been set back by suspensions from FIFA and are now the world’s 143rd best team. But Mohammad Abdullah and Shabaib Al Khaldi showed glimpses of what once was; the two combining in the 25th minute before the former’s shot hit goalie Amrinder Singh and went out. Al Khaldi’s free-kick in the 57th was tipped over by Singh. Through the night, Sandesh Jhingan and Ali were alert to the dangers they posed which made the equaliser seem particularly cruel.

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