2023 SAFF Championship By Numbers

Author: Gautam Varier

The 14th edition of the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Championship saw India be crowned champions for the ninth time, as they successfully defended their title. It was a close run thing though for the Blue Tigers as they needed penalties to get by Lebanon in the semifinal and then Kuwait in the final as well.

As was the case in the last edition, the Indian attack was spearheaded by Sunil Chhetri.

Credit: Murali Kumar K/The Hindu
  1. For the second straight edition, he finished as the leading scorer with five goals, with no one else finding the back of the net more than twice.
  2. Chettri has now also become the only player in the competition’s history, to have been the top scorer in three different editions (2011, 2021,2023), a remarkable feat.
  3. His 23 goals over the years are now tied with Maldives’ Ali Ashfaq for the most in the history of the competition.

While Chhetri was the top scorer of the 2023 SAFF Cup, India weren’t the top scorers in the tournament. This edition saw a total of 38 goals being scored in the 15 games and Kuwait had the most with 10. 29 of the 38 goals were from open play and Kuwait led the way there too.

As for the rest,

  1. India scored the most goals from set pieces with three followed by Kuwait with two.
  2. In total, there were four goals scored from corners and penalties each and just one from a direct free kick, which came off the boot of Lebanon’s Hassan Maatouk against the Maldives.
Hassan Maatouk (L)
Credit: STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images

Maatouk’s strike ended up being just one of the six goals scored in the tournament from outside the box.

  1. Of the 38 total goals, 22 were scored in the first half, compared to 16 in the second, as teams did most of their damage in the first period itself.
  2. India were tied with Kuwait for the most goals in the second half with four, but the latter had the most first half strikes with six.
  3. Chhetri was the one who scored the most though in both periods, with three goals in the first and two in the second.
  4. His two game-winning goals (against Pakistan and Nepal) were tied with Maatouk for the most in the tournament as well.
  5. Chettri also led the tournament by scoring the opening goal in games on three separate occasions, against Pakistan, Nepal, and Kuwait.

While Chhetri’s contributions were key to India’s success, the backline and goalkeepers were just as important. The Blue Tigers conceded just two goals, both against Kuwait, with only Lebanon letting in fewer during the course of the tournament.

Both of these came from open play, so India did not concede a single goal from set pieces throughout the tournament.

The coaching staff and the players deserve a ton of credit for that. That rock-solid defense will probably need to be at its best if the Blue Tigers are to retain their crown in 2025. The likelihood of the 38-year-old Chhetri playing the next edition is slim and unless they find a new talisman upfront, they’ll have to rest their hat on the defensive end to win their 10th title.

Featured Pic Credit: Indian Football

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