India coach Igor Stimac gets second red card at SAFF Championship, deputy Mahesh Gawli points finger at referees
Igor Stimac, who had just joined the technical area after serving a one-match suspension was given marching orders in the final ten minutes of play vs Kuwait.
“Very very bad refereeing, if we continue with such referees in SAFF Cup the standard will drop,” was assistant coach Mahesh Gawli's first remark after the SAFF Championship 2023 encounter between India and Kuwait, which ended in a 1-1 draw at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru on Tuesday evening.
The emotions were understandable as a total of four yellow and two red cards were shown during the course of an action-packed 90 minutes. There were a couple of more bookings but it involved the coaching staff. A support staff member from the Kuwait dugout was shown a yellow card in the first half, while India head coach Igor Stimac, who had just joined the technical area after serving a one-match suspension, was shown a yellow card moments after the hour mark and was later given marching orders in the final ten minutes of play.
The Indian camp felt it was a harsh decision as Stimac instead of heading down the tunnel chose to sit at the East Lower A stand for the remainder of the match. “I think SAFF has to think about the referee because quality teams were there. So you (referee) need to control, he could not control,” Gawli noted further.
The drama didn't end there as Sahal Abdul Samad, who was introduced as a second-half substitute, was shoved to the ground by Kuwait defender Hamad Al-Qallaf two minutes before the regulation 90 minutes. It all started with Sahal trying to keep possession as he was challenged by midfielder Fawaz Al Otaibi.
The duel saw the Indian midfielder loft the mid-air ball with his leg while Fawaz tried to steal it using his head and went down in the process. It appeared that Sahal had made no contact with his opposite player and he continued to run with the ball.
Sahal then took a strong blow as Hamad came charging towards him and pushed the midfielder straight to the ground. Rahim Ali, who was introduced in the match after Stimac's sent off, joined the action and pushed Hamad, who then fell on to the ground.
This sparked fresh tension on the pitch as players from both teams gathered at the spot, a few shoved each other while others tried to restore normalcy.
Soon after the incident, the referee took both Rahim and Hamad aside and showed them a straight red card for their misconduct.
The delay saw referee add eight minutes of stoppage time, which allowed Kuwait to find an injury time equaliser. The tensions continued as Kuwait players and technical staffs celebrated the goal in hostile manner, with most rushing towards the Indian dugout. Kuwait goalkeeper Bader M A M A Bin Saanoun was also seen making angry gesture at the host players sitting in the dugout.
“I think it's normal, sometimes it happens. We need to understand we cannot always control our emotions,” Kuwait coach Rui Bento said after the match.
‘They were targeting Igor Stimac’
Stimac getting cards on both occasion created confusion and when asked Gawli to shed more light into the incident, the assistant coach said his senior was not at fault. He felt both the cards were unjustified, before citing the example of India's center-back Sandesh Jhingan, who was the first player to be booked in the match.
“The first tackle by (Sandesh) Jhingan, he (referee) gives a yellow card, it was totally wrong. As a referee you have to control. So coach was angry, but coach did not say anything to them, but they were targeting the coach you could see that,” said Gawli.
The assistant coach also stated that the Kuwait players verbally abused Stimac but the referee didn't do anything about it. “The Kuwait players were giving bad words to the coach, but he did not say anything. It is not right. The standard of the referees has to be changed,” he said.
With the 1-1 draw, India finished second on the Group A table and will be back in the semifinal clash on Saturday.