Bengaluru: India head coach Igor Stimac on Thursday defended his actions during the team’s 4-0 win over Pakistan in its SAFF Championship opener here, saying he “will do it again” to protect his players against “unjustified decisions”.
Stimac was shown a red card for interrupting with the actions of an opposition player deliberately at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium on Wednesday.
“Football is all about passion, especially when you defend the colours of your country. You can hate or love me for my actions yesterday, but I am a warrior and I will do it again when needed to protect our boys on the pitch against unjustified decisions,” Stimac tweeted.
Stimac felt the throw-in had been awarded incorrectly to Pakistan, which replays confirmed it had. However, he stepped over the line in interfering with the game, and Pakistan’s players and staff took issue with that, as pushing and shoving commenced between the two units.
Captains of both teams, Sunil Chhetri and Hassan Bashir, took charge of the situation to calm down their players, but cameras caught heated words being shouted at the Indian coaching staff by Pakistan’s own coaches. As the brawl died down, the referees convened and decided to send off Stimac for his interference, leaving India’s assistant coach Mahesh Gawli to manage the second half of the game.
Stimac, outspoken and unapologetic in his defence of his team as always, would later take to social media to double down on his decisions and actions. In a fiery tweet, the Croatian former international wrote “Football is all about passion, especially when you defend the colours of your country.” He also added the flag emojis of India and Croatia: Stimac was part of Croatia’s first-ever World Cup squad in 1998, as the young country had a fairytale run all the way to the bronze medal.
Stimac continued, “You can hate or love me for my actions yesterday, but I am a warrior and I will do it again when needed to protect our boys on the pitch against unjustified decisions.” He also shared a video of the incident that earned him the red card, perhaps an indication that he did not regret the choice he made in that moment to defend his team. His passion for the Indian team has never been in question, and it is something that has gone a long way towards improving the Blue Tigers since his appointment as manager in 2019.
Stimac’s passionate support of his players and staff comes after Gawli claimed that Pakistan’s players overstepped their own bounds and laid hands on Stimac, something which in itself is a bookable offence, but got away with no consequences except a solitary yellow card to midfielder Rahis Nabi. The assistant coach also claimed the Indian team manager Velu Dhayalamani was headbutted by Pakistan’s goalkeeping coach Marcelo Schroeder Costa, but received no punishment.
The brawl did not affect the Indian players. They had already taken an early 2-0 lead by the 16th minute as Chhetri capitalized on a huge error by goalkeeper Saqib Hanif, before firing a confident penalty past him five minutes later.
They built on the lead in the second half, as Chhetri completed his hattrick with an even better penalty, going the same way and beating Hanif with an immaculately-placed stroke of his boot. Udanta Singh Kumam put the icing on the cake, getting on the end of a beautiful ball over the top by Anwar Ali before slotting home to make it 4.
The conditions in Bangalore were tough, with the rain never relenting and making the pitch muddy and difficult to play smoothly on. It will be interesting to see how the pitch holds up over the course of the tournament, as it is the only venue in use for the SAFF Championships.
Nonetheless, Stimac’s Blue Tigers will be very pleased with their start to the tournament, as they look to defend their victory in the 2021 edition of the tournament. They sit on top in group A, Kuwait right behind them having beaten Nepal in the other amthc of the day. India will now prepare to face Nepal and all but seal their spot in the knockouts with a victory on Sunday.