Panchkula: Ahead of their do-or-die clash on Thursday, both Minerva Punjab and Churchill Brothers have come down harshly on the refereeing standards in the I-league this season.
The referees have been criticised throughout the season for their poor decisions and they weren't spared on Wednesday either at the press conference ahead of Minerva's clash against relegation-threatened Churchill Brothers.
From Left: Churchill Brothers' Osagie Monday, coach Alfred Fernandes, Minerva Punjab coach Wangkhem Khogen Singh and Rahul Das. Courtesy: Firstpost
Churchill have gone as far as writing to the AIFF to appoint a foreign referee for their must-win match at the Tau Devi Lal stadium in Panchkula on Thursday. A win would ensure Churchill finish above Chennai City FC and survive the drop to the second division.
After their loss to Chennai, a visibly frustrated Minerva coach Wangkhem Khogen Singh remarked that the refereeing was so poor that it felt like Minerva were up against 14 players rather than 11.
"I think there's a contrast in the way coaches think and in the way referees think. The referees give a lot of bad decisions throughout the 90 minutes but they believe that they are right. For example, against Chennai, I thought the second goal was offside but they said no. Then Chencho was fouled a couple of times in the box but they said 'no penalty'. We believe it is a penalty," Khogen Singh said.
Singh's thoughts were echoed by Churchill coach Alfred Fernandes who said that Indian referees have a lot to learn to improve their standards.
In their last match against Mohun Bagan, Churchill were denied a goal scored by skipper Osagie Monday after the referee ruled that Churchill's Onyema Francis had committed a foul in the build-up to the goal.
Despite the poor refereeing standards, Singh is confident of his team's ability to win regardless of refereeing errors.
Going into the last day of the season, four teams have a chance of winning the title with leaders Minerva, favourites to do so. However, anything other than a win will open the doors for NEROCA FC, Mohun Bagan and East Bengal to claim the title.
Second-placed NEROCA take on fourth-placed East Bengal in Kolkata while Mohun Bagan face a trip to Kozhikode to face Gokulam Kerala.
The Warriors were cruising towards their first I-League title after a string of good away results before they fell to shock defeats at the hands of Gokulam Kerala and Chennai City FC. However, after East Bengal's draw at Shillong Lajong, Singh is confident of making the most of their second chance.
"God has given us a second chance and we have to take it. We need to concentrate and focus more on this match than any of our previous matches. This is our last chance. We have to die on the field tomorrow," Singh said.
However, the Minerva coach acknowledged that Churchill are no pushovers and the Margao-based club will be very tough opponents because of their fight to avoid relegation.
"Churchill are a good side and we lost to them in our earlier match. We know their strengths and weaknesses and are fully prepared to overcome them tomorrow."
With the stakes so high, Singh admitted that there is pressure on his team to deliver against Churchill and he has been doing everything he can to keep the squad's spirits up.
"The morale was a bit down after our loss to Chennai. On Monday, after training, we watched the Shillong Lajong-East Bengal match on the bus on our way back to the hotel. After that match, the players started believing that they can win the title.
"We are motivating our players and making sure that they get positive reactions from us even if they commit a mistake. We have been telling them to believe that they are the best team and the confidence level is high again."
With all the matches involving the title challengers kicking off at the same time, the four teams will be kept in the dark about the results in the other matches. Not that Singh is concerned about it.
"We don't need to think about others. We have to win this match for us. The others are dependent on us. If we win tomorrow, we don't need to care about what happens in the other matches," he said.