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“Sunil Chhetri Inconsolable as India Teammates Honour Goalscoring Legend with Guard of Honour in Farewell Match Against Kuwait”

An overcast sky mirrored the sombre mood at Salt Lake Stadium as Sunil Chhetri, India’s iconic striker, laced up for his final World Cup qualifier against Kuwait. The match ended in a 0-0 draw, further dimming India’s hopes of advancing to the next round.

The steadily filling stadium erupted in applause as Chhetri stepped onto the field for a warm-up, acknowledging the cheers before joining his teammates. Despite emphasising the importance of India’s potential qualification for the third round of the FIFA World Cup qualifiers—a milestone never achieved by the country—the significance of Chhetri’s farewell was palpable among the crowd.

After the final whistle, emotions overcame him as his teammates honoured him with a guard of honour, marking the end of a stellar career featuring 94 goals in 151 matches.

India began the match with a 4-3-3 formation, featuring Jay Gupta making his senior team debut alongside Anwar Ali, Rahul Bheke, and Nikhil Poojary in defense. Early pressure from Kuwait saw Eid Al-Rashedi set up Mohammad Daham, only for goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu to make a crucial save in the fourth minute. Despite Kuwait’s dominance, India showed glimpses of attacking intent, notably through a determined run by Liston Colaco leading to a corner, although Anwar Ali’s header went high.

Throughout the first half, India’s struggles with ball control and possession allowed Kuwait to dominate the midfield. India’s attacks were sporadic, relying on counters, with debutant Gupta’s low cross to Abdul Sahal and subsequent efforts by Sahal and Colaco narrowly missing the mark. Chhetri, though present in the penalty box, found few opportunities as his teammates failed to deliver decisive passes, leaving Kuwait satisfied at halftime.

The second half saw a tactical shift, with Rahim Ali and Brandon Fernandes replacing Sahal and Anirudh Thapa, pushing Chhetri to a playmaking role behind the striker. This change nearly paid off when Fernandes’ through ball found Ali, whose shot was saved by the goalkeeper. India’s performance improved, with substitutes, especially Ali, influencing the game, though neither side gained a clear advantage. Manvir Singh replaced the exhausted Colaco in the 70th minute, and a tense finish ensued, including a brief altercation involving players from both teams.

India now faces an uncertain future without their most decorated striker. With five points and a game in hand, their progression to the third round of qualifiers hinges on the outcomes of the remaining matches, leaving their fate out of their control.

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