Bengaluru: Indian men’s football team assistant coach Mahesh Gawli believes that winning the SAFF Championship 2023 will hold a higher significance, especially after facing tough opponents like Kuwait and Lebanon in this year’s competition. As India prepares to face Kuwait in the final on Tuesday, the team aims to secure the coveted trophy for the ninth time in its history.
The inclusion of Kuwait and Lebanon in the SAFF Championship added an extra challenge for the Indian team. Gawli, a two-time winner of the championship as a player, expressed that triumphing over these strong teams on the path to the title would make the victory even more special.
“This one is going to be more difficult to win. Kuwait is a good opponent, and the competition has been tough. Back then, we only played against SAFF teams. Winning in Karachi in 2005 was very enjoyable, but if we win today, the joy will be on a different level,” stated Gawli.
In the group stage, the Blue Tigers were held to a 1-1 draw by Kuwait, with the visitors scoring an injury-time equaliser. However, Gawli has faith in the team’s ability to get the job done in the final against the same opponents.
“It was a tense affair last time out against Kuwait and also Lebanon. We’ve told the boys to be calm and cool and direct all their focus on winning the final. It will be a totally different game. We have a positive feeling and hope we can continue how we’ve been doing so far,” added Gawli.
Indian centre-back Sandesh Jhingan, who missed the semi-final win on penalties against Lebanon, will be back in action for the final. Jhingan’s leadership and solid defensive performances have been key to the team’s success, as India has conceded only one goal in the calendar year. Jhingan attributed the defensive solidity to the coaching and guidance of Gawli, who was one of the best defenders during his playing days.
“Mahesh bhai was one of the best defenders India had during his playing days. We all looked up to him, and it’s amazing for us to have had a longer camp with him. We have received praise for our solid defensive job, and a lot of credit should go to him. He gives us input all the time, in every session. The system is what brings the best out of any player,” stated Jhingan.
Despite having to watch the semi-final match from the stands, Jhingan expressed confidence in his team’s abilities and their cohesion as a unit. He acknowledged the strong performances of Mehtab Singh, Anwar Ali, and the entire backline in his absence.
“To be honest, I was pretty confident we would get through. I was preparing for the final. Now, the whole focus is on Kuwait. They have been the toughest team to face in the last eight to ten games we’ve played. It’s going to be difficult, and we’re looking forward to it. God bless us if we win it and make you all happy,” Jhingan concluded.