The Indian Football Team shared the spoils with Kuwait in the FIFA World Cup and AFC Asian Cup Joint Qualifiers Round 2 at the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan in Kolkata on Thursday.

The Blue Tigers would have moved closer to the third round with a win against Rui Bento’s team. However, an end-to-end, action-packed 90 minutes dashed the dreams of 130 million people, as Stimac’s team secured a hard-fought point against Kuwait in the qualifying fixture.

Known as the Blue Wave, the visitors dominated the first half with more ball possession in their favor. Kuwait had their first chance in the early minutes with Mohammad Daham, whose shot hit the side netting after being deflected by Gurpreet Singh Sandhu’s hands. Later on, the No. 9 created another opportunity to strike an early lead in the game, but the Indian goalkeeper plucked away his looping ball, which was moving towards the far post.

Absorbing the initial pressure, India got their first chance through Liston Colaco, who was given a long, grounded through ball from debutant Jay Gupta. Colaco, who made a quick run to get past his defenders, tried to cut back the ball for Sunil Chhetri inside the box, but his pass was intercepted by Hassan Hamdan Al-Enezi.

Anwar Ali missed the first real chance of the game in the 12th minute as he failed to keep his attempt on target. Anirudh Thapa played a whipping corner into the Kuwait box, which found Ali free inside the six-yard box, but the defender’s free header missed the target from very close range.

The visitors continued to display their beautiful passage of play with quick counter-attacks and swift offensive moves. However, Stimac’s men tried to create some impact through the right flank, using their combinational play between Lallianzuala Chhangte and Nikhil Poojary, but the opponent’s defensive line stood strong to deal with it.

Al Rashedi, who has been instrumental on Kuwait’s right flank, missed a golden opportunity from close range, preventing Kuwait from taking a first-half lead. The winger received a defence-splitting lob pass in front of the onrushing Sandhu, but Rashedi failed to chip the ball over the goalkeeper in a 1v1 situation.

Moving forward, the Blue Tigers tried to create chances from set-piece situations, but a lack of precision inside the opponent's box ended the opening half in a stalemate.

Igor Stimac made double substitutions in the second half as he brought in Rahim Ali and Brandon Fernandes, replacing Thapa and Sahal Abdul Samad. The Bengali forward had a good chance to break the deadlock just after coming off the bench, but his low shot didn’t have enough power to beat Kuwait goalie Sulaiman Abdulghafoor from close range.

Rui Bento’s team missed their first chance in this half with Al Rashedi, whose powerful strike was desperately saved by Sandhu. Al Rashedi got past Gupta to create some space on the edge of the box and lodged a robust shot, but the tall Indian goalkeeper stood firm under the bars, denying Al Rashedi’s attempt to keep the scoreline unchanged.

To increase the offensive flair, Stimac replaced Colaco with Manvir Singh in the 71st minute and handed the national team debut to Edmund Lalrindika, who replaced Gupta 10 minutes later. 

However, Stimac’s men continued to strive to find the opener in the dying minutes of the final half, but Kuwait’s sturdy defensive line displayed their resilience and resurgence until the final whistle to hold the hosts from taking the lead. Fernandes had the last chance just before the full-time whistle, but the midfielder could not deliver the free-kick perfectly as the ball went out of play.

With that, the match resulted in a goalless draw, denting India’s hopes of qualifying for the third round. Furthermore, the Kuwait match marks Chhetri’s farewell game for India, as the forward decided to hang up his boots after serving the country for over the last two decades.

The Blue Tigers now have five points after five games. India's third-round qualification will now depend on the outcome of their next match against mighty Qatar, where the Blue Tigers face another challenging outing on June 11.