The Blue Tigers are expected to play a friendly before their first qualifier against Myanmar…

Stephen Constantine has been the coach of the Indian National Team since 2015. The former Rwanda coach has seen the side grow into a Sub-continental powerhouse and under him, the Blue Tigers have risen 42 spots in the international rankings. Known for his immaculate hard-work in the training sessions and giving youngsters valuable chances, under Constantine, the team has gone from 171 to 129 in the last two years.

In the AFC Asian Cup pool for 2019, India is in Group A, with Macau Myanmar and Kyrgyz Republic. In an interview given to the All India Football Federation (AIFF), the coach opens up on the draw and how will India fare in the next round, which begins in mid-March.

When asked about his notions on the draw, the coach said, “On paper, it looks favourable. It does give us the hope that we have a legitimate chance to qualify from the group.” ‘On paper’, is what gets stuck to mind.

Quizzed further on this, the coach clarifies, “I need to take you back to the draw of the World Cup Qualifiers where we were drawn with Guam and Turkmenistan and there was a generic feeling all around – ‘no problem, we will have it easy.’ Myanmar has made it to the final of the Suzuki Cup and on the back of qualifying on merit to the FIFA U-20 World Cup under their German Coach, they are a very difficult team to play at home.”

With the advent of technology in football, every coach needs to read and research his opponents. On asked about his feelings on Kyrgyz Republic and Macau, the Englishman took the easy route out, “Let us take one match at a time. There are no easy games for us.”

Training before such games are very crucial. With the grueling I-League on, the coach needs to select and choose his side astutely. While India play its first game on March 28 against Myanmar, the coach expects his team to start training together for a fortnight.

Stephen says, “The plan is to assemble on the weekend of March 11/12 (2017) as the players would start to assemble after their respective Hero I-League games. But there would be boys who would be involved in the AFC Cup and we will only have them available some days later.”

Friendlies are important. With as less football as the Blue Tigers play, they come in very handy before an important tournament or qualifier, in this case. Constantine reveals his plans on the only friendly the team might play.

Talking about the yet-undecided game, Stephen asserts, “It would benefit us to have valuable match practice as the intensity of International Football is entirely of a different level than domestic football. Let me reiterate, Myanmar (in the qualifier) won’t ever be an easy opposition away or even at home.”

The most interesting aspect before every Indian game is the team selection. The coach has already cleared the air with, “I have always said the Players who do the work will get the opportunity. The door is open to each and every Indian Player who qualifies to play for India” and re-intensifies it with, “Myself and Venky (Shanmugam Venkatesh) are following the Hero I-league very closely and watching players. We will make our selections based on what we know and what we see.”

Covering almost all the points under this, the coach has given an almost complete over-view of the state and preparations for the AFC Cup. Looking at the whole stratosphere, the team looks to be heading towards positive results. With a little more time, Constantine can surely leave his impressions on the Blue Tigers and can take the national team to new shores successfully if the players respond to their coach’s ideas for one more time. 


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