Indian men’s senior national team assistant coach Mahesh Gawli felt that the fitness of his men was a key factor in their victory over Kuwait in the SAFF Championship 2023 final at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru on Tuesday.

Leading his second consecutive game in-charge following the Blue Tigers’ victory over Lebanon in the semi-finals, Gawli was extremely influential in helping his players focus on the game rather than the increased animosity between the two sides, in both the knockout fixtures. The 43-year-old — who came in for suspended head coach Igor Stimac — has won the SAFF Championship trophy twice, first as a player and now as a coach. 

“It was my first time as coach (in the last few games) and I’m very happy that we won. I will continue to work to help the country do well,” stated Gawli in the post-match press conference.

Tuesday’s fixture was the first time India conceded first since their 3-0 loss to Vietnam in the VFF tri-nation series back in September 2022. Since then, the Blue Tigers have been on an incredible run of fixtures, going unbeaten in 11 fixtures while winning eight of them. 

The former India U19 coach laid emphasis on how his men were able to fight back despite losing focus early on in the game. 

“This Kuwait team is good. It was a good match and both teams had their chances. We were a little bit off colour for the first ten minutes but then we took control of the match,” he said.

“It was a big final and the boys were a bit desperate after Kuwait took the lead. I told them to be calm and cool. We had superior fitness and that helped. We could see the Kuwait players struggle with their fitness. It’s a wonderful victory, it shows that we are consistent,” he concluded.