Bengaluru: Indian men’s football team assistant coach Mahesh Gawli hailed Captain Sunil Chhetri for his outstanding performance in the SAFF Championship match against Kuwait, likening his energy on the field to that of a 21-year-old. Despite being held to a 1-1 draw by Kuwait at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru on Tuesday, Chhetri’s goal-scoring prowess and commitment to the team were commended by Gawli.
Chhetri’s goal in the match marked his fourth consecutive goal for the national team, further solidifying his status as India’s biggest goal threat. With his international goal tally now at 92, Chhetri continues to lead by example and inspire his teammates.
Speaking at the post-match press conference, Gawli expressed his admiration for Chhetri’s goal and highlighted his legendary status in Indian football. “It was an excellent goal,” Gawli stated, praising the veteran forward. “We must appreciate this legend. He has been a legend for us for many years. Despite being 38 years old, he was running like a 21-year-old out there.”
“I think our performance was very good. We played excellent football,” Gawli stated. “We thoroughly assessed the fitness statistics before selecting the lineup. Kuwait is a strong team, and we aimed to field a team that could secure victory. Now, our focus is on recovery.”
Gawli also lauded young centre-back Anwar Ali for his impressive performance in the match. As a former defender himself, Gawli recognised Ali’s confidence and composure despite the pressure of such an important match. “He was very good. We could see his confidence. Despite the magnitude of the game, he played like a calm and composed player,” Gawli remarked.
However, the assistant coach did not shy away from expressing his disappointment with the referee’s performance, believing that the match spiralled out of control due to poor officiating. Gawli called on the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) to address the issue, stating that continuing with such referees would have a detrimental effect on the competition. He highlighted a questionable yellow card shown to Sandesh Jhingan for his first tackle as an example of the referee’s questionable decisions.
Looking ahead, India will now face Lebanon in the semi-finals on Saturday. Having previously played Lebanon twice in the Intercontinental Cup, with a 0-0 draw in the first encounter and a 2-0 victory in the final, Gawli expressed confidence in the team’s performance and emphasised their focus on recovery.