India emerged victorious over Lebanon and secured their place in the final of the SAFF Championship 2023 after a nail-biting penalty shootout at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru on Saturday.

The match ended in a goalless draw after a thrilling and intense 120 minutes of play, leading to a nervous showdown in the penalty shootout. Indian custodian Gurpreet Singh Sandhu emerged as the hero of the night, making a remarkable save to deny Lebanon's captain from converting his penalty kick.

Lebanon began the game in an attacking fashion, immediately asserting their dominance on the field. In the opening minutes, they crafted a real chance when a well-placed cross from the right flank found Nader Matar unmarked inside the box, but he skied his shot from close range.

In the 7th minute, Lebanon's skipper, Hassan Maatouk, played a precise pass to Farran Zein, who found himself in a promising position inside the box. However, Indian goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu rose to the occasion, making a crucial save to deny Farran Zein and keep his team level.

The Blue Tigers gradually grew into the game and started to pose a threat to the Lebanese defense. In the 16th minute, their talismanic striker Sunil Chhetri displayed his vision by playing a delightful through ball to Jeakson, but instead of taking a shot himself, Jeakson opted to pass to Sahal Samad, who was in an offside position.

The Indian custodian was called into action again before half-time when Maatouk curled a delightful free-kick towards the top corner, but Gurpreet made a fantastic save to tip the ball over the crossbar as both teams headed into the break with the scoreline still reading 0-0.

The second half saw both sides maintain their competitive edge, with neither team willing to back down. The tempo of the game slightly slowed down, and it picked up again when coach Mahesh Gawli introduced the likes of Naorem Mahesh Singh, Akash Mishra, and Udanta Singh. Lebanon had their best opportunity in the second half through their captain when he was set on goal by Farran, but he sailed his shot over the bar. Meanwhile, India’s best opportunity in the second half came in the dying moments when Mahesh’s corner took a deflection and hit the woodwork.

The Blue Tigers started extra time with real urgency as they made a flurry of attacks. Chhetri made a wonderful attempt to test the keeper from distance in the 93rd minute, but the keeper parried it away for a corner. Two minutes later, the best opportunity for India came to Chhetri when Udanta played a cross to him, but the former couldn’t connect with the ball properly and sent it over the bar.

The intensity reached its peak as both teams desperately searched for a breakthrough goal in the final 15 minutes, but the scoreline remained unchanged, and the outcome of the match was to be decided by a nerve-wracking penalty shootout.
Chhetri opened the scoring for India while Sandhu dived to full stretch on to his left side to deny Maatouk’s from the spot. Their fortunes worsened when Khalil Bader uncharacteristically skied the ball from the penalty spot.

In contrast, India's players displayed remarkable composure and precision, with each of their four players confidently finding the back of the net.