'Was a red card but Pakistan players pushed him': India coach opens up on Stimac sending off, headbutt incident at SAFF
Igor Stimac was at the centre of a heated ruckus towards the end of the first half.
Matches between India and Pakistan are always high voltage encounters regardless of the sport and this was true in the case of the football match the two sides played in the 2023 SAFF Championship 2023 at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru on Wednesday. Things started pretty smoothly but Pakistan goalkeeper Saqib Hanif seemed to feel the nerves that came with the occasion, with one of his rather schoolboy errors gifting India captain Sunil Chhetri the first goal.
While India dominated the proceedings throughout the 90 minutes, things got intense five minutes before the half-time whistle. The incident also saw the referee pull a red card from his pocket, the only from the match.
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It started with India coach Igor Stimac getting himself involved in a small moment as Pakistan's Abdullah Iqbal got ready for a throw-in. The coach tapped the ball out of Iqbal's hands, following which his teammate Rahis Nabi rushed towards the Indian technical area and exchanged a few words with Stimac. The moment was enough to send a crowd of over 20,000 present at the stadium into a frenzy and players too got involved.
While players and the coaches didn't hold back from venting at each other, Marcelo Schroeder Costa, Pakistan's goalkeeping coach, appeared the most angry. Apart from shoving and pointing fingers at few members from the Indian contingent, Costa was also seen headbutting India team manager Velu Dhayalamani before being separated by the Pakistani players and support staff.
India's assistant coach Mahesh Gawli, who is a former centre back himself, then took India's charge in the second half. When enquired by reporters to Gawli to shed some light on the incident, the assistant coach admitted it was Stimac's fault but added the referee was a bit harsh.
"It was a red card because he (Igor Stimac) can't do that. But it was too harsh because Pakistan players came and pushed him. Either referee didn't see or deliberately didn't give (red card to them). There wasn't any red card for any officials, despite one of them headbutting our manager," he said at the post-match press conference
Pakistan assistant coach Torben Witajewski also passed his remarks on the incident and said: “there was one situation in the game, but it was not provoked by us.”