Chhetri displayed his skill and influence by scoring a crucial injury-time goal in the first half, seemingly setting India on the path to victory. However, in added time during the second half, an unfortunate own goal by Anwar Ali dashed the home side’s hopes of securing the win. This marked the first goal India had conceded in nine matches.
As a result of the draw, both India and Kuwait finished the group stage with seven points. However, Kuwait claimed the top spot in Group A due to their superior goal average.
India will play Lebanon in the semifinal while Kuwait will take on either Bangladesh or Maldives.
Already qualified for the semifinal, both India and Kuwait pressed forward from the whistle, giving some entertaining moments.
India organised their attacks through both the wings while Kuwait mainly relied on sorties through the left flank during that passage.
The Blue Tigers nearly went ahead in the sixth minute but Chhetri failed to connect with a cross from Akash Mishra by a whisker. Kuwait too had their own chance when Shadab Al Khaldi’s ripper of a shot from just outside the box went inches over the bar in the 20th minute.
But, slowly but surely, India snatched the control of the match and they could have netted the first goal in the 35th minute but Anwar Ali’s header off an Anirudh Thapa corner lacked the desired direction.
India’s persistent tries bore fruit in the injury time. Thapa took a rather low flag kick from the right side and Chhetri effected a classy, tumbling volley to beat Kuwait goalkeeper Abdul Rahman, whose desperate dive went in vain.
It was Chhetri’s fifth goal of this tournament from three matches and overall 24th goal in 26 SAFF championship matches.
Armed with a 1-0 lead, India went ahead in full steam in the second half but saw their head coach Igor Stimac being sent off with a red card, second time in this tournament.
Stimac engaged in an animated argument with match officials and was eventually flashed a red card in the 81st minute. The Croatian was earlier given marching orders in the match against Pakistan for interrupting their player from taking a throw-in.
But the harsh moments did not end there as India’s Rahim Ali and Kuwait’s Al Qallaf were sent off.
The melee ensued after Qallaf pushed down India’s Sahal Abdul Samad in the 84th minute and Rahim, in turn, pushed the Kuwait player to the ground. After that there was not enough time for either side to force a result.
(With PTI Inputs)