WORLD CUP QUALIFIER | Heartbreak for India and Chhetri as they fail to surmount the Kuwait challenge

FOOTBALL | The goalless draw in the Indian skipper’s final outing deals a big blow to the Blue Tigers’ bid to make the third round for the first time

Published - June 06, 2024 10:08 pm IST - KOLKATA

Indian football team captain Sunil Chhetri  during his last match against Kuwait at the Yuva Bharati Krirangan at Kolkata  on Thursday.

Indian football team captain Sunil Chhetri during his last match against Kuwait at the Yuva Bharati Krirangan at Kolkata on Thursday. | Photo Credit: R.V. MOORTHY

India suffered a big blow in its bid to realise a third round spot as it played out a goalless draw against Kuwait in a fifth round Group A league match in round two of the 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifiers, at the Salt Lake Stadium, here on Thursday.

With India notching up a 1-0 win in the first round while visiting Kuwait City in November last year, expectations were high about the national team repeating that result at home and brighten its qualification chances. But India failed to recreate its previous performance to see its World Cup qualification dreams virtually evaporating in front of a massive turnout of 58,921.

India’s Jay Gupta and Kuwait’s captain Yousef Alsulaiman in action during the Qualifier Match at the Yuva Bharati Krirangan at Kolkata  on Thursday.

India’s Jay Gupta and Kuwait’s captain Yousef Alsulaiman in action during the Qualifier Match at the Yuva Bharati Krirangan at Kolkata on Thursday. | Photo Credit: R.V. MOORTHY

India, which remains on five points from as many matches, now has a Herculean task on its hands. It travels next to Doha to play its last match on June 11 against a mighty Qatar, which currently tops the group, having won all its four matches.

It was a bigger disappointment for Indian captain Sunil Chhetri, who left the ground in tears, apparently unable to secure the desired win in his last outing for the country. 

The match remained largely uneventful, with India struggling to find its footing in attack. Indian head coach Igor Stimac employed a youthful attacking midfield employing the likes of Liston Colaco, Sahal Abdul Samad and Lallianzuala Chhangte to support Chhetri in attack. India made a few incursions inside the Kuwait box but failed to find the finishing that could decisively beat the opponent goalkeeper, Sulaiman Abdulghafoor.

Kuwait came up with a more cohesive performance and troubled India on numerous occasions. Kuwait had the first chance in the fourth minute when its winger Mohammed Abdulah latched onto a through-pass and found himself unmarked inside the Indian box. Goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh came out of the line to salvage the situation for India.

India found its first chance in the 11th minute when Colaco darted into the Kuwait box before squaring the ball for an onrushing Chhetri. But the Kuwait defender Hasan Alenezi reacted first to clear the ball. India had a great chance to find the lead off the resultant corner, but defender Anwar Ali sent a free header over the crosspiece.

Stimac tried to overhaul the attack, introducing the likes of Rahim Ali, Manvir Singh and Brandon Fernandes after the break, but that hardly helped the Indian cause as the host’s finishing failed to reach the desired standard.

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