India Beats Lebanon On Penalties.
SAFF CHAMPIONSHIPS: Chhetri's confident kick gave India the perfect start in the penalties.
India beat Lebanon 4-2 on penalties at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium on Saturday to enter the SAFF Championship final. The tie was goalless until the end of extra-time, and in the ensuring shoot-out, India was flawless. Sunil Chhetri, Anwar Ali, Naorem Mahesh and Udanta Singh didn't even allow the Lebanon goalie to guess right, bulging the net with aplomb. For the visitors, captain Hassan Maatouk missed the opening spot-kick, before Khalil Bader blasted the fourth into the stands to usher the end. In Tuesday's final, India will meet Kuwait, which beat Bangladesh 1-0 after extra-time.
On the day, India changed as many as five of its six defensive players- one of them was forced because of Sandesh Jhingan's absence- with only Anwar Ali retaining his place from the draw against Kuwait. And the rejigged defence was sliced open at will, especially in the opening 10 minutes. Nader Matar fluffed a volley from close range in the first minute before Zein Al Farran missed a one-on-one. For India, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, selected over Amrinder Singh in goal, sprayed a few long balls to shift the action to the other end, but to no avail.
But the hosts could have taken the lead in the 16th minute when Jeakson Singh was sent through by Chhetri, only for the former to square the ball to Sahal Abdul Samad, who was clearly offside. That move though helped abate the initial pressure from Lebanon, and the contest thereafter was even-stevens. This was until the dangerous Maatouk took it upon himself to break open the game, with minutes remaining for the break, he curled in a splendid freekick, but Gurpreet was up to the task. The two sides cancelled out each other for large tracts of the second half. India's stand-in coach Mahesh Gawli introduced Akash Mishra and Mahesh with roughly 15 minutes left to inject some much-needed spark.
And the fresh legs showed as the home team pressured Lebanon to earn four corners in five minutes. Aleksander Ilic's men, though, held on, pushing the tie into extra-time. Minutes in, Chhetri could have sealed it for India. A peach of a drive from distance found the ideal match in Lebanon goalie Mehdi Khalil, but the skipper missed a second chance from six yards out. In the second instalment of added-time, Udanta nearly scored with a mazy run and Lalianzuala Chhangte forced a save towards the end. Ultimately none of it proved costly.
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