"They were targeting the coach" - Indian assistant coach Mahesh Gawli lashes out at officials after 1-1 draw with Kuwait in SAFF Championship 2023

India played out a 1-1 draw with Kuwait in the SAFF Championship on June 27.
India played out a 1-1 draw with Kuwait in the SAFF Championship on June 27.

Indian assistant coach Mahesh Gawli has called for the SAFF to take a look at its referees following the team's 1-1 draw with Kuwait in the SAFF Championship 2023.

The two teams clashed at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium on Tuesday (June 27). Igor Stimac's men went ahead through Sunil Chhetri's stunning strike in first-half stoppage time and seemed in control for much of the contest.

However, Stimac was sent off in the second half following an argument with the officials. The mood around the game shifted, and in the final minute of regulation, both teams had a player each sent off - Rahim Ali for India and Hamad Al Qallaf for Kuwait.

With eight minutes added on, the visitors grasped the initiative and found an equaliser as Anwar Ali miskicked the ball into his own net. The draw meant Kuwait finished as toppers ahead of India in Group A of the SAFF Championship 2023 by virtue of more goals scored.

Due to Stimac's on-field dismissal, Gawli attended the post-match press conference for the third time in this tournament. The Croatian tactician had previously been sent off during India's SAFF Championship opener against Pakistan as well.

When questioned about the sending off and the overall officiating, Gawli said:

"It was the (fault of the) referees. Very very bad refereeing. If we continue with such referees in the SAFF Championship, the standards will drop. I think SAFF has to think about the referees. It was a high intensity match and two quality teams were there - you need to (have) control.
"The first foul (of the game) [Sandesh] Jhingan did, he gives a yellow card. You can't give it; you have to control the game. The coach was angry, but didn't say anything to them. They were targeting the coach, you could see that.
"I didn't understand (the first yellow card). It was a conversation between a player and a coach, and the fourth referee is coming and giving a card. I don't agree with the second one (either)."

He added when probed about whether Stimac was at fault for the second caution he received late in the second half:

"The Kuwait player was (saying) bad words to the coach, but he (the referee) did not say anything - he just gave a card for our coach, which is not right. SAFF need to think about this, and the standard of the referees has to be changed. If you continue with such referees, it's very very bad for SAFF.
"(Whether Stimac could have avoided the second caution) I think the referee could have avoided the second card. He knew everything. Our coach didn't say anything. His fault wasn't there (for both the cards.)"

Stimac is certain to miss India's semifinal clash on Saturday (July 1) against the Group B winners, widely expected to be Lebanon.

It remains to be seen if he is handed a three-game ban, given it's his second offence in as many games. If that is the case, he will miss the final as well should his team qualify.

India played excellent football - Mahesh Gawli praises Blue Tigers' display against 'very rough' Kuwait

The second half of the game between India and Kuwait was often interrupted by fouls, unlike the opening 45 minutes. Neither team was allowed to play the free-flowing football fans were treated to in the first half.

Nevertheless, Mahesh Gawli believes the Blue Tigers were superb throughout the game. He also feels the visitors were extremely rough.

"Today, I think my team, the Indian team, was brilliant. The performance was very nice, and they played excellent football. I'm proud of my boys. Kuwait was very very rough, and the referee was very very poor," he said.

Gawli was also full of praise for Sunil Chhetri, who scored his 92nd international goal, with a stunning volley from Anirudh Thapa's corner.

"Brilliant goal. You should appreciate this legend and the intensity he gives at this age - he's 38 - but he was running like he's 21. We should appreciate it," he added.

Chhetri and India will now wait to find out their semifinal opponent. All four teams in Group B of this year's SAFF Championship will be in action on Wednesday (June 28) and have a mathematical chance of making the last four. However, Lebanon, who have won both their games, are expected to finish at the top.

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Edited by Anantaajith Raghuraman
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