India and Kuwait all set for a clash.
SAFF CHAMPIONSHIP: The Indian team will take confidence from the fact that it hasn't lost a match in four outings against good West Asian sides in Lebanon and Kuwait.
Defending champion India will look to clinch its ninth SAFF Championship title when it takes on Kuwait at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium on Tuesday. The group-stage match between the sides last week had ended in a 1-1 draw, a contest that was remembered more for the acrimony on the pitch than the quality of play. The expectation from the final is for the football to triumph. Both teams come into the summit clash having played a truckload of games, it will be India's ninth in under a month and Kuwait's sixth in the same timespan.
The players also had to toil hard in their respective semifinals, needing 120 minutes and more to beat Lebanon and Bangladesh. Fatigue can be one of the deciding factors. But the chance to win silverware should lift the drooping shoulders, if any. Kuwait hasn't secured a trophy since the 2010 Arabian Gulf Cup and a success here will help overcome the pain of losing an entire generation of footballers when FIFA suspended the nation for more than two years, October 2015 to December 2017. For India, a second winner's medal in a one month window will be a confidence-booster leading up to the 2023 AFC Asian Cup. That it hasn't lost a match in four outings against good West Asian sides in Lebanon and Kuwait, and comceded only through an own goal, are noteworthy.
Credit for that should go to India's defence, which has kept nine clean-sheets from the last 10 matches. Even a rejigged backline, marshalled by goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, held firm against Lebanon. There is thus a selection puzzle for the Indian think-tank to solve, but stand-in coach Mahesh Gawli's exuded quiet confidence in Monday's pre-match briefing, perhaps buttressed by the presence of some reasonably well-rested and quality defenders to choose from. On his part, Kuwait coach Rui Bento was stoic and inexpressive. When he did speak, it was with pregnant pauses. But towards the end he seemed irritable when a scribe suggested that his side was "too physical" in the previous game against India. There was even a veiled dig at the hosts, as he hoped that "nobody puts pressure on the referee". The rest of the cards will be laid on the table this Tuesday evening.
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