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Curtains Set to Fall on Chhetri’s International Career as India Aim for Historic Win Against Kuwait

The most significant thing about tomorrow will be the victory. The fact that it’s Chhetri’s last 90 minutes for the nation adds to the prestige of the fixture.

India’s captain Sunil Chhetri and coach Igor Stimac attended a press conference on the eve of the crucial preliminary joint qualification round 2 match against Kuwait, a fixture that could carve out an unprecedented chapter in Indian football history. The Blue Tigers, as they are affectionately known, are standing at the threshold of glory. Victory on the night of June 6 at the Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata would practically guarantee India a spot in the next round of qualifiers for both the FIFA World Cup 2026 and the AFC Asian Cup 2027.

This date has loomed large in the annals of Indian football ever since a disheartening defeat to Afghanistan in Guwahati back in March. That setback turned June 6 into a make-or-break scenario, and the stakes have only been heightened with Sunil Chhetri’s announcement of his retirement exactly three weeks before the match. Chhetri, who has been the face of Indian football for 19 glorious years, will don the national jersey for the very last time, bidding adieu to the sport and his stalwart fans in an emotional farewell.

Despite the personal importance of this match, Chhetri has emphasized that the focus should remain on the team. During Wednesday’s press conference, the Indian skipper was clear about the larger goal: “I’m trying really hard not to think about the game emotionally. It’s not about me. I would love to win 1-0, I don’t care who scores. The last 15 days have been good. I think we’re on the same page in terms of fitness and that’s a good headache for the coach to have,” Chhetri remarked.

India’s head coach, Igor Stimac, echoed these sentiments. He stressed that while Chhetri’s final game adds an emotional layer to the fixture, the primary objective remains clinching a victory over Kuwait. “Knowing that this is the last game of our captain for the national team makes this occasion much, much bigger. But of course, this is still about India winning against Kuwait. We are focused on what we need to do. I will put it in a few words—we are ready for it,” Stimac declared with confidence.

In the previous 12 months, India and Kuwait have clashed three times—including in the SAFF Championship where they drew 1-1 in the group stage before India triumphed in the final via a penalty shoot-out. Their last encounter in the World Cup Qualifiers saw India clinch a narrow 1-0 victory. Reflecting on these matches, Stimac noted, “We had three tight, tough games against Kuwait. Either team could’ve won them. I would say our best game was away in Kuwait in these qualifiers because that was perfect defensive shape, not allowing them to get near our box and create clear chances.

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. That’s what we need to repeat tomorrow, with our discipline, focus, tight marking, reaching the opposition goal, and scoring the goal because that’s what we need.”

One area of concern has been India’s struggle to score from open play. The Blue Tigers have failed to net goals in five of their last six matches, with the exception of Chhetri’s penalty against Afghanistan. Manvir Singh’s goal against Kuwait remains their last open-play success. Nevertheless, Stimac remains optimistic, noting the improving accuracy and confidence in training sessions. “The boys have worked tremendously hard on details and for everything that is needed for this game. We’re going to be absolutely ready for each scenario which awaits us,” he stated.

Regarding their competition, Kuwait, after wrapping up their domestic season in late May, held a week-long camp in Bangkok before arriving in Kolkata. Rui Bento, Kuwait’s Portuguese head coach, has announced a 26-man squad, all from the Kuwait Premier League. “We expect a good game tomorrow. We know that both teams have competitive targets and the same goal. We’ve had a good environment in our training. We believe that more than the one week of camp in Thailand, it’s about the one and a half year of us being together as a team,” said Bento.

Ranked 139th globally, Kuwait is coming into the match with renewed vigor. Bento believes his team is better prepared now than in their previous encounters against India. “Yes, we played three games against India last year. They were all very balanced and the teams were at a similar level. But all those matches are history. Football is always an ongoing process, and we are proud and confident of ourselves. We are more prepared now to face India and expect ourselves to be better than before and win the game,” Bento asserted. However, Kuwait is also acutely aware that a defeat could place them at the bottom of the group, dashing their World Cup qualifying aspirations.

The anticipation is palpable as Indian football fans gear up to bid farewell to their beloved captain while hoping to witness a historic victory. The stage is set for a clash that will be remembered for years to come. The journey has been arduous, but for India, the road to greatness is now within sight.