Kuwait hold India in fiery clash.

The ageless Sunil Chhetri shone for a third successive game with a cracking goal but Kuwait made their physicality count in a bruising and tempestuous encounter as they eked out a 1-1 draw against India in the final Group A game of the SAFF Championship here on Tuesday.

It looked like Chhetri’s stunning side-foot volley in the last minute of first half would settle a scrappy game that was boiling with tension from the opening whistle, thanks in large part to Kuwait’s disruptive style of heavy tackles and needless fouls. India, in fact, managed to counter Kuwait’s ploy pretty well by maintaining their composure and focusing on what they needed to do, that is score a second goal and put the game to bed at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium.

For a vast majority of the game, they refused to get suckered into Kuwait’s dirty tactics. The Gulf nation constantly kept bringing Indian players down with rough tackles, angry verbal exchanges and even pushing and shoving but India managed to maintain their shape. Kuwaiti dugout too got animated often as the game ticked past the 75th minute, often engaging with the Indian players and the dugout.

However with the finish line in sight, India slowly started to lose their composure. First coach Igor Stimac, who was visibly unhappy with the refereeing in the game and constantly kept expressing his displeasure to the officials, first received a yellow card for handling the ball and then got a second red card of the tournament in 81st minute.

Tempers then started to flare with tackles flowing thick and fast. With every rough tackle, players started to hound the referees and the game stalled with players from camps pushing and shoving each other. Things then came to a boil as Kuwait’s Hamad Alqallaf and India’s Rahim Ali got sent off in the last minute of regulation time.

Rahim trudged off disappointed but it was exactly what Kuwait wanted, rile up the opposition and try and encash on it. And Kuwait did just that as they launched a counter-attack and Anwar Ali, looking tensed, deflected the ball into own net in the second minute of injury time. A jubilant Kuwaiti side celebrated vehemently while the Indian shoulders drooped, having let slip a game they could have won had they stayed true to their shape.

“The quality of refereeing is very bad,” said a blunt Mahesh Gawli, assistant coach. “SAFF has to look into it. You can’t have such poor referees in SAFF. Our coach was not at fault. A referee needs to control the match when it gets physical but today he failed to do so.”

In the day’s earlier match, Aashish Chaudhary scored in the 80th minute as Nepal edged out Pakistan. Both Nepal and Pakistan were out of the semifinal reckoning but Chaudhary ensured Nepal would fly slightly happier with a fine strike.

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