Kuwait clinched a 1-0 win against a resolute Bangladesh to become the first team to qualify for the 2023 SAFF Championship final, where it will face either India or Lebanon, at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium here on Saturday.
Abdullah Albloushi scored the match’s only goal in the first half of extra time to guide the Al-Azraqs to victory.
It was the Bengal Tigers who had an opportunity to take the lead in the second minute. Froward Rakib Hossain, darting down the right flank with midfielder Shekh Morsalin in support, squared the ball to an unmarked Morsalin in the centre as the latter went for a first-time shot.
But the effort was straight at Kuwait’s stopper Abdul Rahman Marzouq, who made the save.
The Al-Azraqs retorted in the seventh minute from a corner. Bangladesh could not clear its lines as Kuwait’s forward Mobarak Alfaneeni lobbed the ball inside the box for Salman Mohammed, whose header was seen off by Md Isa Faysal through a timely goalline clearance.
Contrary to expectations, favourite Kuwait found it challenging to deal with the Bangladeshis, who kept winning the second balls in midfield and kept a compact defence to keep their opponent out.
Hossain threatened the Kuwait goal in the dying stages of the first half when his low-driven cross from the right almost crept inside the near-post, but Marzouq caught the ball in the nick of time.
He continued to be in the spotlight after the restart when his shot (in the 54th minute) caught Kuwait by surprise, as the ball whistled inches over the crossbar.
Six minutes later, his shot from the right side of the six-yard box hit the underside of the crossbar and the player, with hands on his head, couldn’t believe he hadn’t found the net.
Kuwait’s forward Mohammad Abdullah got a chance to get his name on the scoresheet right minutes after the hour mark when tried to find the net from a tight angle, from inside the box.
But Bangladesh’s goalkeeper Anisur Rahman, who looked confident between the sticks, palmed the ball away.
Rahman was called into action again in the 73rd minute as Eid Alrashidi blasted a shot at goal from a close distance but the keeper showed excellent reflexes to make the save, earning appreciation from coach Javier Fernandez Cabrera on the touchlines.
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Abdullah could have stolen the match for Kuwait late in the second half when cut inside to his right and went for a curler from the edge of the box but it missed the goal by inches.
Play in the second half was also halted momentarily due to a disturbance near the Bangladesh dugout. The fourth official called referee John Crystal and complained about Bengal Tigers’ physiotherapist David Dobarro Magan for dissent, who was then shown a red card.
With the match goalless at the end of regulation time, the contest entered into 30 minutes of extra time.
The breakthrough came late in the first half of extra time.
Abdullah – left completely unmarked in the final third – had time and space to thread the ball to Albloushi inside the box, who made his way inside the box, finding the net with a low shot into the far post.
Hossain had the chance to grab the equaliser in the 117th minute but Marzouq was positioned well at his near-post to make the save.
A fight broke out after the final whistle which saw a verbal spat between Biswanath Ghosh and Alrashidi.
It required the intervention from the members of the match commissioners team for things to cool down as a lovely contest ended on a bitter note.
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