The India manager has reiterated that qualification to the continental competition is just the first step in a long journey.
“We can’t let the opportunity slip. We have to win tomorrow’s game and there’s no alternative from working harder and harder,” Captain Marvel Sunil Chhetri said in the pre-match press conference before taking on Macau in the fourth match of the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 Qualifiers at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru tomorrow (October 11, 2017).
“We are going through a good run but we can’t afford to take tomorrow’s game lightly. We have to get it going and make it count. We need three points,” Chhetri stated.
Coach Stephen Constantine also preferred to speak in the same tone referring to the match against Macau as a “crucial one.”
“We’re very close to qualifying for the AFC Asian Cup but we’re still not there. We can’t think about anything but getting a positive result. We respect every opponent and our philosophy won’t change against Macau too,” Constantine stated.
“We have refurbished the team. The average age of the National Team is around 24 The World Cup qualification stage was a learning curve for us and now we’re just one breath away from the AFC Asian Cup. That’s what we have achieved and I believe, we have built a team for next 4-5 years at least,” Stephen Constantine maintained.
On being asked what Sunil Chhetri undergoes to keep the fitness level at par with the younger bunch of players, Chhetri quipped: “I don’t do anything special, trust me. Playing for my country is the biggest motivation for me and it keeps driving me always. I won’t let anyone take my place just for the sake of it. I will keep working hard day in and day out and fight for my place in the team.”
In the away fixture the men in Blue had to toil really hard to breach the resilient Macau defence until Balwant Singh hit the target twice. Chhetri referred to that and stated that ‘Macau is not to be taken lightly anytime.’
“We have worked on our strategies. Yes, we struggled there. We had to work hard to penetrate them. In no way, we can take them lightly. We did work on our mistakes and I hope we’ll implement them on the pitch tomorrow.”
“The AFC Asian Cup is massive. It’s the biggest tournament which an Asian team can play. But, as gaffer said, it’s not done yet. In my playing career of 14 years, I have been in this situation before. We are taking the game with the same philosophy. Now, our only focus is to qualify. Once we do, we will surely cherish the memory.”
Meanwhile, Stephen Constantine informed that he has no injury worries and his full squad is ready to give it a shot tomorrow.
Macau Head coach Chan Hiu Ming rated the Stephen Constantine-coached side very highly at the pre-match press conference. “India are the better team undoubtedly. We’re trying to close the gaps. They have quite a few great players, like 11 (Sunil Chhetri) and others We’ll give our best and it’s going to be a great experience for my boys.”
With India sitting pretty on top of Group A enroute to a possible qualification to the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019, India manager Stephen Constantine feels the boys need to be patient when they take on Macau in the home-leg in Bengaluru on Wednesday. In an interview, the coach explains his concerns against Macau, the challenges which Macau will pose, the commitment of the players and much more. Excerpts:
Q1. How much are you concerned prior to playing Macau?
A- We have to take every game separately and deal the opponent with the respect they deserve. We have to move the ball around quicker and we can’t give them time to set themselves up; basically we need to open them up. I think we were a bit static in the first half of our away game (in Macau) and it helped them. We can’t afford to repeat the same mistake.
Q2. What are the challenges which Macau will pose?
A- They will give us different problems. We have to stay ready and will have to be cautious of not being hit on the counter. Most importantly we will have to be patient which we were not in the first half when we played away against Macau. If we get an early goal, maybe they will try to open up. It all depends on how the game goes. We have the quality and if we stay calm, we should get what we want.
Q3. How do you describe the attitude of the players?
A- The attitude right from the moment I arrived has been excellent. We have had some players who have fallen by the wayside as a result of a new batch coming in. The commitment and work rate has been outstanding and had it not been so, I would not have been sitting here and most importantly, Indian Football won’t be in the position which we are at the moment. Make no mistake, we make them work hard, maybe punishing at times. But the results are there for them and everyone else to see.
Q4. Take us through the journey?
A- At the beginning we were in a bad place, both ranking wise as well as mentally and physically. Personally I didn’t expect anything less than a struggle and I remember saying in my first press conference that things are going to get worse before they get better. But at the same time I did mention that if we manage to stay focussed on the future and be patient, then certainly we would reach a much better position.