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Appalled With Asian Games Rejection, Stephen Constantine Says Asian Cup Preps Begin With SAFF Championship

Unhappy at the Indian Olympic Association’s decision to not let the Indian football team join the 500 plus contingent for the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta in August, coach Stephen Constantine lashed out against the decision, saying it has done more harm than anything else for the team.

Abhimanyu Sen | News18 Sports

Updated:July 29, 2018, 11:08 PM IST
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Appalled With Asian Games Rejection, Stephen Constantine Says Asian Cup Preps Begin With SAFF Championship
India coach Stephen Constantine (Image: AIFF)
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New Delhi: Unhappy at the Indian Olympic Association’s decision to not let the Indian football team join the 500 plus contingent for the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta in August, coach Stephen Constantine lashed out against the decision, saying it has done more harm than anything else for the team. The Indian team, mostly U-23 players, have assembled in the national capital for a two week long camp before they leave for Australia ahead of defending their SAFF Championship title in September in Bangladesh.

Earlier in the year in May, the India U-23 team, who played the AFC U-23 Championship qualifiers in Qatar and gave a good account of themselves, won one game against Turkmenistan while losing to Syria and Qatar. India finished third in their group.

“Based on the recent results of this squad, half of whom are part of the senior squad as well, the decision to not send us to the Asian Games is not a good one. We played well in Qatar and opposition teams have praised our style,” Constantine said. “We are not the team we were four or eight years ago. I think it did us harm because I felt that we would have a good opportunity to qualify.”

Defending champions at the upcoming SAFF Championships, India will play friendly matches against A-League clubs as they prepare for the tournament where they have been clubbed with Maldives and Sri Lanka.

Constantine is happy that the domestic clubs have agreed to release their players in time for the on-going camp, and pointed out that this kind of co-ordination will be essential to the national team’s performance at the Asian Cup in January 2019, where they have been grouped with hosts UAE, Thailand and Bahrain.

“Before the Asian Cup, we are looking at three-four weeks of a camp for the team with a part of it outside India. It will be important to get the team into the international mode and with everyone putting the nation first, things will hopefully fall into place,” said Constantine.

The Indian team will be playing China in the first of their friendly internationals before playing Oman on December 27. That apart, the Sunil Chhetri-led side are likely to play two more games as preparation for the Asian Cup.

Constantine, who has picked four players from the Indian Arrows squad from Prabhsukhan Singh Gill, Suresh Singh Wangjam, Rahim Ali and Rahul KP, believes that this is a good sign of progress for the youngsters. The Indian Arrows, a developmental side of the AIFF, finished last in the I-League last season with a majority of the team being the same as the squad played for the Indian team at the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup.

“I believe that we all have a responsibility to help these young players progress and develop after what they have experienced from the World Cup and the Hero I-League. The result in the World Cup and Hero I-League is irrelevant. Although they finished last in the Hero I-League, the objective was to give the upcoming Indian players more game time and to play regularly in competitive games week in and week out,” he stated. "The important factor is that we are seeing the progression from the youngsters.”

“We need players who can run or fight. He has to meet the criteria. The doors are not closed for anyone but they have to fit in with the system,” the coach said, making it clear that the youngsters who are currently in Spain will have to be prove their mettle once they are back.

The Englishman, in his second stint with the Indian national team acknowledged that while he has not been able to make it to a huge chunk of the domestic games, he does intend to change that this season onwards. Constantine also pointed out that he is not in favour of a high number of foreign players being included in the playing eleven in the domestic leagues.

“While I will surely try to increase the number of games I attend in the coming season, it would be great to see the playing eleven full of home grown players. This season, to start with will see a welcome change with the AFC guidelines kicking in,” he pointed out. In comparison to last season where clubs were allowed five foreign players in their starting line-up, the number has been reduced to four for the upcoming season.

The full Indian squad is not in yet at the camp, with Nishu Kumar and Udanta Singh away with Bengaluru FC for their AFC Cup commitments, while four more are in Spain.

But Constantine is not unduly worried, “They’ll join the camp when they are back. It is good for the national team if they are playing at such a high level. But whoever is in the team has to make a difference every time they take the field,” he signed off.
| Edited by: Abhimanyu Sen
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