India play out goalless draw against Kuwait in Chhetri's last international match

India's captain Sunil Chhetri acknowledges fans after a FIFA World Cup 2026 Qualifier football match between India and Kuwait, at the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan (Salt Lake Stadium), in Kolkata, Thursday, June 6, 2024.
India's captain Sunil Chhetri acknowledges fans after a FIFA World Cup 2026 Qualifier football match between India and Kuwait, at the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan (Salt Lake Stadium), in Kolkata, Thursday, June 6, 2024.

Kolkata | The talismanic Sunil Chhetri stirred up emotions in his final international outing but the Indian football team just could not rise to the occasion as it settled for a goal-less draw against Kuwait in its crucial World Cup qualifying match here on Thursday, critically hurting its chances of going into the next round.

In a country deprived of major footballing success, it was not the best farewell for a man who had created an alternative universe for the spectators of the beautiful game in this part of the world.

A emotional Chhetri was seen sobbing after the end of the match and when he was given a guard of honour by his team-mates. He buried his head into head coach Igor Stimac's arms while crying.

A win would have virtually sealed India (five points) a World Cup qualifiers third round berth for the first time ever but the draw put them in an extremely difficult situation to do so as they play Asian champions Qatar in their last match on June 11.

If India fail to beat Qatar, then Kuwait -- currently on four points -- can make it to the third round of the World Cup qualifiers if they beat Afghanistan on June 11.

The 39-year-old Chhetri ended his glorious 19-year international career as the fourth most prolific scorer in international football with 94 goals, behind Portugal superstar Cristiano Ronaldo (128), Iran legend Ali Daei (108) and Argentine wizard Lionel Messi (106).

It's an astounding feat for a player from a country like India and FIFA had acknowledged Chhetri's legendary status when he announced his international retirement on May 16.

Chhetri bid an emotional adieu to the international game in front of a jam-packed 68000-capacity Salt Lake Stadium with his parents Kharga and Sushila, wife Sonam Bhattacharya and a host of officials and former players in attendance.

He will, however, continue playing club football for "two more years". He has a contract with the Indian Super League side Bengaluru FC till next year.

Chhetri had scored in his debut match against Pakistan on June 12, 2005 in Quetta in a 1-1 draw but not on Thursday, though the game ended in a draw this time also. He also did not have much to show for in the whole match.

After his 151st match for the country, Chhetri gave a last bow, taking a lap of honour of the packed venue with folded hands as chants of "Sunil, Sunil" echoed the stands.

Kuwait looked a much improved side from the last time when they suffered a 0-1 defeat to India at home.

The first-half saw a flurry of activities, with both teams creating chances but failing to find the back of the net.

But the action on the field kept the fans on the edge of their seats as they

India's captain Sunil Chhetri and Edmund Lalrindika vie for the ball with Kuwait's Fahad Alhajeri during a FIFA World Cup 2026 Qualifier football match between India and Kuwait, at the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan (Salt Lake Stadium), in Kolkata, Thursday, June 6, 2024.
India's captain Sunil Chhetri and Edmund Lalrindika vie for the ball with Kuwait's Fahad Alhajeri during a FIFA World Cup 2026 Qualifier football match between India and Kuwait, at the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan (Salt Lake Stadium), in Kolkata, Thursday, June 6, 2024.

kept screaming "Sunil, Sunil", "Vande Mataram".

Kuwait's best chance of the first-half came in the fourth minute when Eid Al-Rashidi threaded a perfect through ball to Daham, who surged past Nikhil Poojary. Mohammad Daham's effort was denied by a crucial save from the Indian goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu.

In the 11th minute, India responded as Liston Colaco surged from the left wing, sending in a low cross as all eyes focused on Chhetri's 95th goal. But Hasan Alanezi's sliding clearance thwarted the Indian captain's attempt.

From the ensuing corner, Anwar Ali's header just missed the target, much to the crowd's anticipation.

Al-Rashidi latched onto a chipped pass from Al-Harbi, but his attempted chip over Gurpreet sailed over the bar.

In the 25th minute, the debutant Jay Gupta was in thick of action. Gupta delivered a sublime low cross from the left, but the Kuwait defense cleared it for a corner.

India failed to utilise a freekick in the 28th minute when Poojary showcased his skills with a superb run down the right wing, nutmegging a defender before being brought down.

Thapa’s delivery, however, didn’t yield a goal.

Just at the halfway mark, Thapa sent a fantastic ball into the box, which Kuwait could only clear to deny Sahal Abdul Samad. His left-footed shot was blocked, and the rebound fell to Liston Colaco, who fired a low strike into the side netting from a narrow angle.

Kuwait, frustrated by Gupta's defensive efforts, switched play from the right to the left, only for the move to end with the ball going out of play.

Igor Stimac made a bold move by shuffling their attacking lineup, introducing Rahim Ali up front with Brandon Fernandes and Chheri behind him.

But it failed to yield the desired result as he failed to convert his chances.

In the 47th minute, Faisal Al-Harbi tested Gurpreet with a low volley, but India's custodian stood firm.

A minute later, Rahim found himself one-on-one with the Kuwait keeper Sulaiman Abdulghafor, but couldn't convert.

Despite India's openness at the back, Gurpreet's brilliance denied Kuwait's Rashidi just moments later.

As India asserted dominance, Kuwait's frustration peaked in the 74th minute with a denied penalty claim, incensing players and bench alike.

Replays suggested a foul, but the Chinese referee Fu Ming deemed otherwise.

Tempers flared up to a mini-brawl after a challenge on Indian debutant Edmund, leading to a confrontation between him and Sultan Alenezi, both receiving yellow cards.

Amid the tension, Edmund rallied the crowd's support with a free-kick opportunity, but Brandon Fernandes' atrocious delivery meant India's last hope for a win went up in smoke in the added seven minutes.

Stimac handed left-back Gupta international debut in his 4-2-3-1 formation with Chhetri the sole striker up front.

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