The Blue Tigers will be looking to continue the winning momentum in a potential banana skin match…

On the eve of India’s friendly against neighbours Nepal, India manager Stephen Constantine along with goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu spoke to the media at the pre-match press conference in Mumbai earlier today. The Englishman declared that the shot-stppper would wear the armband in tomorrow’s game.

Gurpreet has joined the national team after arriving from Stabaek FC where he is now the first choice goalkeeper for the Norwegian side. He stressed on the importance of players taking a chance to try and ply their trade abroad saying, “It is obviously better. The conditions there are better than here. There has been improvement and people can see it . But its not just me it could have been anyone.” He then went to give examples of Sunil Chettrri and Subrata Paul who have plied their trade in foreign leagues.

On being asked why the coach had selected Mumbai for the training camp for the fourth time in two years he said, “I do not want to sound biased towards Mumbai, but if I get what I want in terms of facilities, training grounds, distance from the main stadium and hotel, it’s all within close proximity, that will be my preference. Guwahati was also a good venue for us. I take all the factors into consideration because the less time we are on the bus, the players get more time to relax and we get to training in 20 minutes instead of 45 minutes. The support that we have from the people and federation here in Mumbai is great, so that’s a bonus.”

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India were to play this particular friendly against Lebanon but due to visa problems had to settle to play against the Nepal team to prepare for the AFC Asian Cup qualifier against Kyrgyzstan. Constantine expressed gratitude stating towards the substitute opponents saying, “We are thankful to the Nepal team for accepting the match on such short notice. Nepal is a very hard-working team as you have seen in every game they play. I know the mentality there so we expect a huge deal from them as they fight till they can’t fight anymore.  I don’t think there are any easy teams at the international level.”

Speaking on the FIFA ranking of 100 achieved by India recently Constantine quoted  All-India Football Federation supremo Praful Patel and said, “We need to be in the big competitions.  Mr Patel mentioned a few days ago that he would love to see us at 50. So would I. It is possible but we need to do some things to get there. We worked so hard to reach 100, but when the target is 50 we need to be in the AFC finals, try and qualify for World Cups and when you are in those positions you can expect to be in the top 50. When we were at 173 and had said that we want to be in the top 100, people laughed. But they are not laughing now.”

Sandhu was asked about whether the soon to happen U-17 FIFA World Cup would help India in popularising football in a cricket-loving country, to which he answered, “ This is India’s first FIFA event. It is an important opportunity for us and we should use it to popularise the game as India has the potential to have multiple sports and has a lot of potential to become better in each of them. Such opportunities are few and should not be wasted. India may not get an opportunity like this again.”

On injury concerns, the coach stated that CK Vineeth is definitely out and so is Udana Singh. About India captain Chhetri the coach added, “Sunil I cannot say is in a lot of pain, but we are being cautious with him. He is not 22 anymore.” On his importance in the national team the coach expressed his belief in the captain saying, “Sunil is one of the top players and has been for quite some time. He is not 22 but he is in top physical condition. He is now 32 and needs to start thinking what next?  It will be a big loss to Indian football the day he decides to hang his boots. We hope he doesn’t do it now and continues to play for the team.”