Defending champions India held their nerves to beat Lebanon 4-2 in a tense penalty shootout after a goalless 120 minutes of play to enter the final of the SAFF Championship football here on Saturday.
The home side face Kuwait, a 1-0 winner over Bangladesh in the other semifinal of the day, in the summit clash on July 4.
India will be playing in the final of the regional tournament for the 13th time and ninth on the trot. They have won eight times in the earlier 13 editions. The only time India did not make it to the top two was in 2003. In the penalty shootout, skipper Sunil Chhetri, Anwar Ali, Mahesh Singh and Udanta Singh found the back of the net for India.
Lebanon could only score twice through Walid Shour and Mohammad Sadek.
India goalkeeper Gurpreet Sandhu saved the kick from Hassan Maatouk while Khalil Bader’s sailed above the crossbar.
It was also India’s second successive win over Lebanon after defeating them 2-0 in the recent Intercontinental Cup in Odisha.
Before the late drama unfolded, the first half began with Lebanon dominating the proceedings. India were not even in the picture for the first 10 minutes.
Lebanon had a brilliant chance to go ahead in the second minute. But Nader Matar was a bit too eager to execute a volley, failing to impart direction as it sailed over the bar.
India found their bearings soon and got their first crack at the opposition goal in the 16th minute.
For once, Chhetri played the role of an orchestrator and pushed forward Jeakson Singh with a well-directed pass. Jeakson found Sahal Abdul Samad inside the box with a cross. However, Sahal’s shot was parried away at the goal line by Ali Dhaini.
Lebanon were the better side in the first half and they got another chance to take lead in the 42nd minute. However, captain Hassan Maatouk could not evade the stretched hands of Indian goalkeeper Gurpreet Sandhu.
Action continued to be at a furious pace in the second half as well. But both India and Lebanon could not break the deadlock. Both sides also defended well.
Despite the midfield of both the teams showing a competitive streak, they failed to come up with a creative moment as the match meandered into the extra time.
Chhetri could have scored twice in the 93rd and 95th minutes, but on both the occasions the Indian captain uncharacteristically could not find the target.