Watch: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu's flying save that won India SAFF Cup in thrilling penalties against Kuwait
“I got most of them right but I couldn't get a touch and the one I got was the winner,” said Gurpreet Singh Sandhu after India beat Kuwait in penalties.
A full house at Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru was graced with yet another commanding display by the India football team, who clinched their ninth SAFF Cup title on Tuesday. Led by the talismanic forward Sunil Chhetri, the team remained unbeaten throughout the course of the tournament, and defeated Kuwait 5-4 in penalty shootout, after both sides finished 1-1 in the regulation and extra time at the summit clash.
While Kuwait scored the first goal, it was India, who held the momentum throughout the match. India reduced the deficit in the 38th minute, as Lallianzuala Chhangte found the equaliser with a simple tap-in, but the attacks started coming right after the Blue Tigers conceded the goal.
For instance, a minute after Kuwait broke the deadlock, Chhangte controlled a long ball from Anwar Ali with his chest and set it up for Chhetri, who then struck a powerful shot from the edge of the box forcing Kuwait no. 1 Abdulrahman Marzouq to make a diving save.
However, despite the numerous attempts, the score remained 1-1 and the action once again shifted to the tie-breaker.
Unlike the semi-finals against Lebanon, which also went to the shootout, this felt more intense, however, there were a few similarities.
Just like the other night, captain Sunil Chhetri was the first one to take the spot-kick and give India the early advantage in the shootout.
The focus then shifted to India keeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu as Kuwait's Mohammad Abdullah came first from his side. He relied on power rather than placement as his shot rammed the crossbar, which gave India the edge.
Sandesh Jhingan stepped up for the second kick and converted it with ease, handing India a 2-0 lead. Kuwait then found the first goal as Fawaz Alotaibi, unlike Abdullah chose placement over power, as Gurpreet dived in the opposite direction.
Then came India's goalscorer Lallianzuala Chhangte, who coach Igor Stimac is a big fan of. Chhangte's penalty was among the most stylish ones as he put India 3-1 ahead with a Panenka-esque attempt. Kuwait then closed the margin and made it 3-2 as Ahmad Aldhefeery scored from the 12-yard distance.
Udanta Singh, a crowd favourite, then stepped up to take India's fourth kick and he too went for the chip. However, his attempt floated over the crossbar but spectators at Kanteerava ensured the player didn't feel disheartened as familiar chants of “Udanta Udanta” engulfed the stadium.
“It was a good penalty where he hit but only the range, like it should have been down but he kept it up. We motivated him, no problem after all we have won the trophy so we forgot everything," said assistant coach Mahesh Gawli, who guided the team from the sideline in the absence of Stimac.
With both the teams tied at 4-4, Subhasish Bose took the fifth penalty, which he converted and Shabaib Alkhaldi did the same for Kuwait, despite Gurpreet diving in the right direction.
As the shootout went into sudden death Mahesh Singh was the first and eventually the last shooter from the Indian camp. He scored, while Kuwait skipper Khaled Hajiah chose the left side but was denied by Gurpreet, who fisted the ball away.
VIDEO: India vs Kuwait SAFF Cup penalty shootout, Gurpreet wins it for India
“It's all about going to one side and hope that you get some kind of a touch on the ball and make sure that it goes out of the goal and that's what I did,” said Gurpreet after the match.
Despite being in a similar situation in the previous encounter, Gurpreet proceeded with a fresh mindset, stating he didn't want to feel “too jittery or overconfident", ensuring he “read the penalty taker and try to go on the right side.”
“I got most of them right but I couldn't get a touch and the one I got was the winner,” he added.
Sharing his views on the opponents, Gurpreet said: “If you look at it, I wish Kuwait had done their homework and see that all the penalties that I have saved are on the left side and maybe go onto the other side. But again like I said, it's luck. And it's about going to the right side and getting a touch."