Indian men’s football team assistant coach Mahesh Gawli feels winning the SAFF Championship 2023 will rank higher than previous teams due to the presence of teams like Kuwait and Lebanon in this year’s competition.

The two teams were invited to participate in the SAFF Championship and have provided India with the sternest tests so far.

Thus Gawli who was a two-time winner of the competition as a player feels beating the two stronger teams on the way to the title will make it more special.

"This one is going to be more difficult (to win). Kuwait are 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 tomorrow (on Tuesday), the joy will be of a different level," Gawli said at the pre-match press conference ahead of the final against Kuwait.

The Blue Tigers were held to a 1-1 draw when the two teams met in the group stage after the visitors scored an injury-time equaliser. But Gawli feels the team is confident about getting the job done in the final against the same opponents on Tuesday.

"It was a tense affair last time out against Kuwait, and also Lebanon. We've spoken to the boys to be calm and cool and direct all the 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.

‘Focus on Kuwait’

Indian centre-back Sandesh Jhingan missed the semi-final win on penalties against Lebanon and will be back in action for the final.

Jhingan has led the defence impeccably well in the last few matches and India have only conceded one goal in the calendar year. The FC Goa defender attributed the solidity in defence to coach Gawli.

"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 inputs all the time in every session. The system is what brings the best out of any player," stated Jhingan.

The 29-year-old felt confident about his team’s chances against Lebanon in the semi-final despite having to watch the game from the stands and believes the team is performing well as a unit.

"I missed being on the pitch. You don't want to miss the big games, but that's how football is sometimes. But I think the team did really well. Sitting out there watching the game, I didn't feel they missed me much. Mehtab (Singh), Anwar (Ali) and the whole backline did well,” he said.

"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-ten games we've played. It's going to be difficult, and we're looking forward to it. God bless we win it and make you all happy," he concluded.

India will face Kuwait in the final of the SAFF Championship on Tuesday as they aim to win the trophy for the ninth time in their history.