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Stimac admits drawbacks but hints at sub-par refereeing after India’s Merdeka Cup exit

India’s campaign at the Merdeka Cup 2023 ended before it could take off after the Blue Tigers suffered a 2-4 loss against Malaysia, which saw them bow out of the competition.

After conceding a goal early courtesy of Dion Cool’s strike in the seventh minute, India showed fight and responded with an equaliser in the 13th minute, after Sahal Abdul Samad’s deft assist was met with a rasping volley by Naorem Mahesh Singh.

India, however, could not hold on to its lead as Nikhil Poojary conceded a penalty, which was converted by Arif Amin in the 20th minute. To add to India’s woes Faisal Halim made it 3-1 for Malaysia four minutes before half-time.

Sunil Chhetri pulled a goal back in the 52nd minute to make it 2-3, and the chance of a comeback was truly on.

It was in the 57th minute that the match took a dramatic. Lallianzuala Chhangte’s shot took a deflection off Ahmad’s body, and the ball seemed to have crossed the goalline for the equaliser. However, the referee took a different view, and the Indians were denied the goal, which irked head coach Igor Stimac and the Indian contingent. Replays later showed that the entire ball had crossed the goalline, making it a legitimate goal for the Blue Tigers.

If the denied goal was not enough, Corbin’s strike to make it 4-2 for Malaysia in the 62nd minute added salt to India’s wounds.

Reacting to the loss, Stimac posted on X (formerly known as Twitter), “Even after having a goal taken away from us and playing against favourable decisions for the home team, we only have ourselves to blame for last night’s loss. Our defending was poor, gifting them a couple of goals + We created more than enough chances to win and …we should’ve put the game to rest in the second half. Proud of all my boys who didn’t give up till the last whistle. There’s more work to be done before we take on Asia’s biggest teams.”

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