India triumphs in thrilling Penalty Shootout to reach SAFF Championship final

In a pulsating semi-final clash at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru, India showcased their resilience and determination as they defeated Lebanon in a nerve-wracking penalty shootout.

The match ended goalless after extra time, but the Blue Tigers held their nerve from the spot to secure a spot in the SAFF Championship final. Let’s dive into the thrilling encounter that saw India’s goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu shine and the team’s unwavering spirit on display.

The semi-final clash between India and Lebanon lived up to its billing, with both teams putting on a determined display. The Cedars started strongly, looking to break their duck against an Indian defense missing the experienced Sandesh Jhingan. Nader Matar and Zain Al Abidine Farran threatened early on, but Gurpreet Singh Sandhu stood tall to deny Lebanon.

India weathered the storm and gradually shifted the momentum in their favor. With captain Sunil Chhetri leading the charge, the Blue Tigers pressed high and tightened the screws on Lebanon, restricting their build-up play. The tactical adjustment paid dividends as India gained turnovers in the opposition half, creating chances through the creativity of Anirudh Thapa.

It was Thapa’s exquisite cross that found an onrushing Pritam Kotal, who nodded the ball into the side netting to come close to breaking the deadlock. India continued to create opportunities, with Lallianzuala Chhangte and Sahal Abdul Samad going close, but the first half ended without a breakthrough.

The second half saw India maintain their momentum, but Lebanon defended resolutely, denying the hosts clear-cut chances. Both teams struggled to find the target, with efforts from Chhangte and Farran going astray. As the game wore on, India introduced fresh legs in Nikhil Poojary, Rohit Kumar, Naorem Mahesh Singh, and Akash Mishra to maintain their intensity.

With regulation time ending goalless, the match headed into extra time. The tension was palpable as both teams sought a decisive goal. Chhetri and Udanta Singh came close for India, but Lebanon’s goalkeeper Mehdi Khalil stood firm with crucial saves. The first came to a Chhetri’s volleyed effort from just outside the box that was dipped over while the second saw Rohit initiate a brilliant counter-attack allowing Udanta to make a run with the ball and enter the Lebanon box. He sold a couple of stepovers before his toe poked shot was smothered off by the Lebanese keeper.

With neither side able to find the winner, the match was destined for a penalty shootout. Gurpreet Singh Sandhu emerged as the hero, making a spectacular save to deny Lebanon’s Hassan Maatouk and set the tone for India. Chhetri, Anwar Ali, Mahesh Singh, and Udanta Singh held their nerve to convert their penalties, while Lebanon’s Khalil Bader sent their crucial fourth spot-kick into the stands.

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