India emerged victorious in a thrilling final in the SAFF Championship 2023 on Tuesday, defeating Kuwait 5-4 on penalties after a hard-fought 1-1 draw at the end of full time. The grand showdown, which took place at the Sri Kanteerava Stadium in the Indian city of Bangalore, witnessed an electrifying atmosphere with 26,380 fans cheering on their teams.

In an impressive display of resilience, India managed to win on penalties, just like they did in the semi-final. The South Asian giants secured their spot in the final by overcoming Lebanon on penalties. With this triumph, India have now lifted the SAFF Championship for a record ninth time.

The tournament itself marked a historic moment as it extended its invitation beyond the South Asian region for the first time ever. Both Kuwait and Lebanon were invited to participate, injecting an international flavour into the competition.

The final encounter was not without its share of drama, as Kuwait took an early lead in the first half. Shabaib Al Khaldi was the one who broke the deadlock, finding the back of the net in the 14th minute, courtesy of a pinpoint cross from Abdullah Al-Buloushi.

However, India was not one to be deterred, and they quickly retaliated with an attacking push of their own. Lallianzuala Chhangte made a valiant attempt to level the score, but his low shot from the edge of the box was thwarted by Kuwait’s goalkeeper. Chhangte’s determination was evident as he persisted with his efforts, but Kuwait’s captain, Khaled Hajia, managed to fend off the threat.

Nonetheless, India’s persistence eventually paid off as Chhangte redeemed himself just before the end of the first half. In the 38th minute, he seized the opportunity provided by Mahesh Singh Naorem’s well-timed cross and netted the equaliser for India.

As the match progressed, both teams expressed their frustration with some of the decisions made by the match referee, Nepal’s FIFA referee Chetri Prajwal. This led to tense moments on the field, with Indian fans voicing their dissatisfaction with strong words directed at the referee.

India’s defence, led by the experienced Sandesh Jhingan, played a crucial role in thwarting Kuwait’s attacks. Jingan’s contribution was particularly remarkable as he was suspended for the semi-final due to accumulating two yellow cards in the group stage matches.

The contest intensified in extra time, with Kuwait’s Mahdi Dasti launching a dangerous shot towards the net in the dying minutes. However, India’s goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, displayed exceptional skills to block the attempts and keep Kuwait at bay until penalties.

After five rounds of penalty kicks the scoreline remained 4-4 and the sudden death rule was applied. Mahesh Naorem scored but a diving India goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu saved Khaled Hajia’’s shot to hand victory to the home side.