The Indian men’s senior national football team withstood Lebanon’s combativeness until the last minute and eked them out 4-2 in penalty shootout in the SAFF Championship 2023 semi-final at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium, in Bengaluru, on Saturday.

India now await their fate on Tuesday as they lock horns with middle-eastern opponents Kuwait in the final of the tournament. The Blue Tigers have made it to the final of the prestigious competition for the ninth successive time, having clinched the title eight times while ending as runners-up on the remaining three occasions. 

India have been the most successful team in the SAFF Championship — having won the tournament a record eight times, most by any side — and with head coach Igor Stimac at the helm, there has been an increased confidence, renewed aggression, and composure within the side. 

Inching closer towards their ninth SAFF Championship title, India might have the pedigree and history behind them, but facing Kuwait in the final will not be an easy task. 

As the Blue Tigers prepare to rewrite history, we revisit the past and take a look back at all the 12 finals of SAFF Championship.

1995 (Sri Lanka): Sri Lanka 1-0 India

Having won the inaugural SAFF Championship title in 1993 which took place in a round-robin format, the Blue Tigers were up for a title defence in the 1995 edition held in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Drawn in the same group, Sri Lanka and India shared the honours in the group stage and went on to face each other in the final after beating Nepal and Bangladesh in their respective semi-finals.

Held to a goalless draw until regulation time, Sri Lankan forward Sarath Wellage came off the bench to break the deadlock and secure the island nation’s first win over India and clinch their first and only SAFF Championship title till date. Since then, the Golden Army haven’t made it to a single final.

1997 (Nepal): India 5-1 Maldives

Similar scenario, different opponent, reverse outcome. Drawn alongside Maldives and Bangladesh, India had faced the former in the group stage but put in a dominant shift in the final where they put past five – the biggest win margin recorded by a single team in the finals of SAFF Championship.

Marksmen Jo Paul Ancheri, Bhaichung Bhutia, Amit Das, and IM Vijayan found themselves on the scoresheet, with the latter netting a brace in the game. The Blue Tigers netted a total of 12 goals in the competition, six of which were fired in by Vijayan.

1999 (Nepal): India 2-0 Bangladesh

Coached by Sukhwinder Singh back then, India remained unfazed with the managerial change and were able to succeed in their title defence after sweeping a comfortable 2-0 victory over neighbours Bangladesh.

The Blue Tigers remained unbeaten yet again in the group stage and got past Maldives in the semi-final. Having tied against Bangladesh in the group stage, the Singh-led side switched gears this time and put in two first-half goals by Bruno Coutinho and Bhaichung Bhutia to steer clear and clinch their third SAFF Championship title.

2003 (Bangladesh): Bangladesh 5-3 Maldives (after penalties)

Hosts Bangladesh put every single team they faced through the sword in the 2003 edition of the SAFF Championship as they recorded a 100% win rate in the tournament besides a 100% clean sheet record in the group stage. 

After getting redemption over India in a 2-1 victory in the semi-finals, Bangladesh took on Maldives in the final where both sides cancelled out each other after scoring in the first-half and second-half respectively. The Bengal Tigers then converted all five penalties against Maldives’ four to win their first-ever SAFF Championship title.

2005 (Pakistan): India 2-0 Bangladesh

India bounced back in this edition and made it to the final where they faced Bangladesh yet again. The result? A replica of the 1999 edition as they drew with Bangladesh in the group stage before beating them in the finals. 

The Blue Tigers clung onto the goals scored by Mehrajuddin Wadoo and Bhaichung Bhutia in each half and asserted their dominance over the neighbouring nation, securing their fourth SAFF Championship title.

2008 (Maldives and Sri Lanka): Maldives 1-0 India

Co-host nation Maldives triumphed over India in the final after a solitary goal by Mukhthar Nasser in the dying minutes of the game won them their first-ever SAFF Championship title.

A near-perfect Indian side, who beat Maldives in the group stage, failed to emulate their winning performance in the final. On the bright side, this edition witnessed leading SAFF Championship goalscorer Sunil Chhetri opening his goalscoring account in the tournament, with the striker netting two goals for the Blue Tigers.

2009 (Bangladesh): India 3-1 Maldives (after penalties)

India grabbed their opportunity of redemption and delivered a blow to Maldives after an intense final that led to penalty shootouts. Fielding an U-23 side by then head coach Sukhwinder Singh, India's young guns were on target as they converted all the penalties compared to the one scored by Maldives.

Having lost just one game in the group stage which came in a 2-0 loss against Maldives, the Blue Tigers put in a massive shift to overcome defeat and clinch their fifth SAFF Championship title.

2011 (India): India 4-0 Afghanistan 

India faced a resilient Afghanistan side who showed their goalscoring prowess in the tournament, netting 13 goals in their run-up to the final. Facing them for the first time in the final, the Blue Tigers netted four quickfire goals in the dying stages of the game to inflict defeat on the neighbouring rivals.

Four different goalscorers in Sunil Chhetri, Clifford Miranda, Jeje Lalpekhlua, and Sushil Singh steered India towards a win, securing a sixth SAFF Championship crown.

2013 (Nepal): Afghanistan 2-0 India

The cards were reversed this time as Afghanistan got past India in a 2-0 victory after scoring a goal in each half to lift their first-ever SAFF Championship title.

Coached by Dutchman Wim Koevermans, the Blue Tigers failed to assert themselves as a dominant side, scoring only four goals in the tournament, one of the lowest goalscoring tallies by India across all editions.

2015 (India): India 2-1 Afghanistan

Meeting for the third consecutive time in the summit clash, there was increased fervour, rivalry, and competitiveness between the two teams who loved going up against each other.

After a goalless first-half, the latter half saw both teams scoring quick-fire goals, with Afghanistan breaking the deadlock in the 70th minute and India netting the equaliser within the next two minutes. As the game went into extra-time, it was Chhetri’s special goal from the free-kick that completed the turnaround for India as they accomplished their seventh SAFF Championship title.

2018 (Bangladesh): Maldives 2-1 India

It was the reunion of the same old foes as the two sides crossed paths after their meeting in the 2009 final. The scenario this time, though, was different as Maldives were able to pull one over a prolific Indian side – that conceded just a solitary goal in their run-up to the final.

A goal in each half put India on the backseat throughout the game as they were unable to spark a comeback. However, a Sumeet Passi strike in injury time, proved nothing but a consolation goal, as Maldives lifted their second SAFF Championship title.

2021 (Maldives): India 3-0 Nepal

Nepal created history in their 13th appearance as they reached their first-ever SAFF Championship final. India, however, reigned supreme with a 3-0 win as the Igor Stimac-coached side whipped in a treble of goals in the second half to seal their record eighth SAFF Championship title.