The night of July 4, 2023, kicks off with loud cheers echoing throughout the Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru as the Blue Tigers warm up. It culminates in a deafening roar as India clinches their 9th SAFF Championship Title.
In the first half of this nail-biting match, fullback Abdullah Buloushi delivers a well-executed pass from the right side of the pitch, which is expertly finished by forward Shabib al Khaldi, known as No. 10. However, the dynamic duo of Shabaib Lallianzuala Chhangte, the winner of AIFF AWARDS 22-23 as Men's Senior Player of the Year, and Sahal Abdul Samad quickly counter with a powerful equalizer in the 38th minute, bringing the score to IND 1-1 KUW.
Building on their newfound momentum, the Blue Tigers make crucial adjustments by introducing Rohit Kumar as a powerful midfielder and substituting Anirudh Thapa to inject fresh energy into the midfield. Naorem Mahesh Singh of East Bengal FC replaces Ashique Kuruniyan, further strengthening their position on the field.
The second half and two extra times transpire without any goals from either side but witness six yellow cards, four of which are issued to Kuwait.
After 120 minutes, the score remains 1-1, leaving both teams unable to secure a victory despite additional substitutions and Chhangte's close calls. This leads to a thrilling penalty shootout.
Sunil Chhetri kicks off the shootout with a successful shot, followed by defender Sandesh Jhingan, who also scores. On the other hand, Mohammad Abdullah Daham's kick fails to find the mark, hitting the crossbar, resulting in a score of IND 2-0 KUW. The tense shootout continues as Alotaibi and Al Dheferry successfully convert the second and third kicks for Kuwait, while Chhangte delivers a successful third kick for India, bringing the score to IND 3-2 KUW.
Udanta misses the fourth kick for India, sending the ball over the bar, while Mahran scores the fourth kick for Kuwait. The shootout intensifies as Subhasish Bose and Al Khaldi score on their fifth kicks, respectively, resulting in a scoreline of IND 5-5 KUW. Mahesh Singh confidently scores for India, followed by Kuwait's captain, Hajiah, stepping up for their next spot-kick. However, Gurpreet's diving save secures the win for India, with a final score of IND 5-4 KUW.
SAFF Championship 2023 Awards:
- Sunil Chhetri receives the Highest Goalscorer Award, Golden Boots, and Golden Ball. He is also named the competition's Most Valuable Player.
- Anisur Rahman Zico from Bangladesh is awarded the Best Goalkeeper of the competition.
- Nepal receives the Fair Play Award.
- AIFF General Secretary Shaji Prabhakaran presents medals to the match officials, starting with Match Commissioner Mindu Dorji.
- The Sports Minister of Karnataka, Nagendra Rao, is honored for hosting the tournament.
- Kuwait receives the honorable runner-up medals and a prize money of USD 25,000, approximately 20.5 lakhs in INR.
- Finally, amidst roaring applause and chants of "Campeones, Campeones, Ole ole ole," India is crowned the 9th SAFF title, with over 26,000 fans singing Vande Mataram during the victory lap, celebrating not only the match win but also the spirit of India.