Own goal, Stimac’s red mar Chhetri’s opener in Kuwait clash

The bad came at the end of the other half. After a disciplined and spirited performance by the defence, repelling the Kuwaiti attack all day, one careless error undid all the hard work.
India’s Sunil Chhetri in action against Kuwait on Tuesday. (Photo | Vinod Kumar T, EPS)
India’s Sunil Chhetri in action against Kuwait on Tuesday. (Photo | Vinod Kumar T, EPS)

BENGALURU: There were instances of the good, the bad and the ugly at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium on Tuesday as India drew 1-1 with Kuwait in their final SAFF Championships group game. 

Sunil Chhetri gave India the lead right at the end of the first half, an advantage that the Blue Tigers almost held on to till the end. But with just minutes left for the final whistle, defender Anwar Ali scuffed what should have been a routine clearance and put the ball in his own net.

The good was what usually goes right with Indian football these days — Sunil Chhetri producing something out of nothing. Kuwait looked the likelier team to score throughout the first half until Chhetri volleyed Anirudh Thapa’s corner past everyone. There are, so often, times when the captain displays technique that would not have looked out of place on world football’s biggest stages.

This was one of them.

The strike was Chhetri’s 92nd international goal and made him the highest-scorer in SAFF Championship history. How fitting would it be if No 100 came in the Asian Cup, the highest level of football that India can aspire to right now!

The bad came at the end of the other half. After a disciplined and spirited performance by the defence, repelling the Kuwaiti attack all day, one careless error undid all the hard work. That it came from Anwar was particularly unfortunate.

The young defender had been one of the best players on the pitch all game, halting many a Kuwait attack with his fearless tackling. The Blue Tigers have a history of putting in all the hard work before losing the plot right at the end — the injury-time loss against Bahrain in the 2019 Asian Cup, which cost India qualification to the next round, comes to mind. 

It would be wrong to blame Anwar alone for the match had reached a boiling point thanks to India coach Igor Stimac needlessly getting himself sent off, his second red card in as many games. Stimac received his first yellow for the exact same offence that had got him sent off against Pakistan — disrupting a throw-in.

Then, he got his marching orders for arguing with the referee. In a situation where his team was defending a narrow lead against an escalating wave of Kuwaiti attacks, Stimac would have ideally calmed things down and ensured that the players retained their discipline.

Instead, he turned out to be the person most in need of calming down.

Stimac’s behaviour rubbed off on his team as Rahim Ali joined his coach in the stands towards the end of ninety minutes. Rahim and Kuwait’s Hamad Al Qallaf were the two worst offenders in a mid-match melee, something that is becoming an alarmingly regular feature of India’s gameplan.

Both of them received the marching orders for their efforts. Nobody on the pitch had calmed down when minutes later, Anwar made his error.

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