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India Eye 9th SAFF Championship Title, Face Kuwait In Final

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Defending champions India would look to preserve a proud record and add a ninth title to their shelf when they face a tough Kuwait in the SAFF Championship final in Bengaluru on Tuesday. India were stretched to a penalty shootout by Lebanon in the semifinals before winning 4-2, while Kuwait had to wait till extra time to eke out a 1-0 victory over Bangladesh. In fact, this will be the second time India will face Kuwait in the tournament. They had played out a 1-1 draw in an acrimonious Group A match last week.

India might just appear to have a slight upper hand in front of a hugely partisan home crowd at the Kanteerava Stadium.

But there is a worrying aspect. Will India be able to give their best in the final after they were made to toil for two matches in succession? India assistant coach Mahesh Gawli sought to allay such concerns.

“I’d like to say that if you get one week, you can’t do anything. But when you get one month or more you work more on fitness,” said Gawli.

“I think we had almost 50 days. Our strength and conditioning coach, Luka Radman, has done a wonderful job. We have seen our players playing without injuries, and there have been no cramps as well.” In the final, India will also be boosted by the return of key defender Sandesh Jhingan. He had missed the semifinal against Lebanon owing to two accumulated yellow cards against Pakistan and Kuwait.

Anwar Ali had replaced Jhingan in the line-up against Lebanon in the semifinals, and he did an excellent job in thwarting Lebanese advances.

Head coach Igor Stimac will be absent from the India dug out in this match as well after he was slapped with two-match ban by the SAFF disciplinary committee.

Stimac had received his second red card of the tournament during the match against Kuwait. Earlier, he was slapped with a red card in India’s tournament opener against Pakistan.

However, India, under the talismanic Sunil Chhetri, had shown a streak of determination to rise above obstacles.

After scoring in three successive matches in the group stage, Chhetri was not able to find the back of the net in the semifinals against Lebanon. Of course, he converted a penalty in the shootout, but the striker would like to make a heftier contribution in the summit clash.

India would also hope that Sahal Abdul Samad, Mahesh Singh and Udanta Singh will continue to be energetic on the field, feeding Chhetri with those dreaded crosses.

Mahesh, who is usually deployed as a winger, was fielded behind Chhetri against Lebanon to add more support to the skipper. Gawli indicated a continuation of that strategy in the final as well.

“We wanted him to play there (in wings) and feed the wingers and Sunil Chhetri. He was doing that. We kept Ashique (Kuruniyan) on the left because of the physicality, and he was doing well. He was running a lot. We did not want to change that,” Gawli said.

But the Indians know that Kuwait are a battle-hardened side, and nothing less than their best would suffice.

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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