SAFF Championship: India beat Lebanon 4-2 on penalties to reach the final
The victory secured the owners of the land their place at the top of the competition, where they will meet Kuwait.
India will defend their South Asian Football Championship title against Kuwait at the Sri Kantirava Stadium on Tuesday.
Gurpreet saved Lebanon’s first penalty kick through Maatouk, giving the Indian penalty kick the confidence to put the penalty shootout into the net. Chhetri, Anwar, Mahesh and Odanta each scored the first four penalties for India, while Waleed Shore and Mohamed Sadiq scored the penalties for Lebanon. Khalil Badr sent Lebanon’s fourth and final penalty kick into the stands, sending India through to the final.
Lebanon and India faced each other twice last month in the Intercontinental Cup, with the latter keeping two clean sheets and winning once. The Cedars started the SAFF Championship semi-final with great momentum, as they sought to break their card against an Indian defense that was without veteran centre-back Sandesh Jhingan, who was suspended, after picking up two yellow cards in the group stage. Mehtab Singh came on as a substitute for the 29-year-old.
Also missing from India were striker Rahim Ali, and coach Igor Stimak, both of whom were sent off in their final match against Kuwait.
Both teams created many chances but were unable to find the net.
Nader Matar had the opportunity to put Lebanon ahead in the first minute itself, after playing in the six-yard box. However, his aerial volley lacked any semblance of control and went off into the Bengaluru night.
Zine El Abidine Farran had another chance in the opening exchanges, but India’s goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu stood in Lebanon’s way this time.
Facing the early storm, India sought to change the tempo of the match, as they tried to conserve the ball and slow down the pace. Mehtab opted for an early booking, as he tried to banish Hasan Maatouk.
The Blue Tigers quickly changed their order, shoving Jaxon Singh back between the centre-backs while in possession. More importantly, when they got out of possession they really tightened the screws on Lebanon, pressing high with captain Sunil Chhetri from up front.
India came close to taking the lead with three minutes left in regulation time when a dangerous corner kick from Mahesh Naorim hit Zain on the head and the ball began hitting the woodwork. Udanta Singh soon replaced Ashik Kurunyan in injury time, before the referee blew a long whistle, meaning both teams would have another 30 minutes to decide the matter.
It was time to dig deep, and 38-year-old Sunil Chhetri dug deep indeed, slotting his way into Lebanon’s penalty area at the start of extra time, but Lebanon goalkeeper Khalil was on hand to clear him away. The India captain fired over the bar minutes later from a cross by Odanta. The results were still undisturbed.
The tide turned in the second half of extra time, as Lebanon was playing India. Substitute Khalil Badr was broken from long range, sending his shot wide. Maatouk also got into a dangerous situation to cross from the right, but Mehtab Singh was on hand to clear it.
However, India slowly started to come back and Rohit started a brilliant counter-attack which saw Odanta enter the Lebanon square. He sold a few moves, before running out of real estate, as Khalil ran off the goal line to choke the ball.
Anticipating the imminent penalty shootout, Lebanon brought substitute goalkeeper Ali Sobeih in place of Mahdi Khalil in stoppage time from extra time. Time soon ran out for both teams, as the referee blew his whistle to send the match into a dreaded penalty shootout, which India eventually won the match thanks to the heroics of Gurpreet Singh Sandhu.