Sport can be cruel. A late twist broke the hearts of the Indian football team in their last group match in the SAFF Championship against Kuwait on Tuesday. (More Football news)
At Bengaluru's Kanteerava Stadium, a win seemed a certainty for India as they led 1-0 tilll injury time. The ever reliable Sunil Chhetri had put the hosts ahead with a goal in the injury-time of the first half. But in the dying moments of the second, an own goal by Anwar Ali made it 1-1.
Both teams shared a point each. The own goal was the first India conceded in as many as nine matches.
A mere one point or goal can make a lot of difference. India and Kuwait both had seven points after the game, but Kuwait finished as Group A leaders on better goal average. This makes India's job in the semis tougher. No. 101 in the FIFA rankings, they play Lebanon, No. 99. Kuwait, ranked 143, face either Bangladesh (192) or Maldives (154).
Both teams had ensured their last four places and therefore played freely. This resulted in some exciting moves. India displayed the versatility of marching forward on either wing. Their opponents, on the other hand, mainly ran their attacks down the left flank.
India nearly scored in the sixth minute. Chhetri, however, narrowly missed connecting with a cross from Akash Mishra. In the 20th minute, Kuwait came close. A thunderous Shadab Al Khaldi shot from just outside the box skimmed over the bar. The stadium collectively sighed out of relief.
India were the more controlled, settled side. They got yet another chance in the 35th minute. But Anwar Ali's header from a corner by Anirudh Thapa was misdirected.
Then injury time of the first half ended the wait for a goal. Thapa fed a low flag kick from the right and Chhetri executed a spectacular tumbling volley that Kuwait goalkeeper Abdul Rahman could not stop despite his best dive.
It was Chhetri's fifth goal of the tournament in three matches.
With the lead in their hands, India started the second half in assertive, attacking mode. However, their coach Igor Stimac once again got into trouble, just like he had against Pakistan. Stimac was shown the red, for the second time in this tournament, after getting into a heated argument with match officials.
As the match reached its final stage, tensions rose on both sides.
Kuwait's Al Qallaf pushed India's Sahal Abdul Samad in the 84th minute. India's Rahim Ali then shoved Qallaf to the ground. Both were sent off. And then the own goal ruined India's party.