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Constantine Cautiously Confident of India's AFC Qualifying Campaign

Two teams are supposed to progress from each of the six groups and India will be confident of making it to the AFC Asian Cup in UAE, looking at the quality of the teams they are up against in the qualifiers.

Pratik Sagar | News18 Sports

Updated:February 7, 2017, 8:19 AM IST
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Constantine Cautiously Confident of India's AFC Qualifying Campaign
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New Delhi: The qualifying campaign of the continent’s biggest international tournament — AFC Asian Cup 2019 — is set to begin on March 28, but the draw for the same has already been conducted.

For the first time in the history of the competition, the AFC Asian Cup will feature 24 teams, out of which 12 places have already been taken. India are pitted against the likes of Kyrgyzstan, Macau and Myanmar in the Group-A of the 24-team qualifying campaign.

Two teams are supposed to progress from each of the six groups and India will be confident of making it to the finals in UAE, looking at the quality of the teams they are up against.

Only Kyrgyzstan (124) are ranked higher than India (129) according to the latest FIFA rankings as both Myanmar (159) and Macau (184) are ranked 150+ in the world.

However, Indian football team head coach Stephen Constantine has warned his players that they can't commit the same mistake of underestimating any team in their group like they did during the World Cup qualifiers and said as much during an exclusive interview with News18.com.

“Last time when we played the World Cup qualifiers we were drawn in a group with Guam and Turkmenistan who were ranked lower than us. Everyone went gaga seeing the draw and had taken it for granted that we will have it easy. I had tried to point to the strength of both Turkmenistan and Guam but in vain,” warned Constantine, referring to India’s miserable 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign.

Guam and Turkmenistan are ranked 182 and 143 respectively in the FIFA world rankings, however India still managed to finish last in their group with seven defeats in eight matches.

Constantine also praised Myanmar’s very good youth set-up, which is now helping the national team grow.

“Myanmar made it to the FIFA U-20 World Cup Finals in 2015, and on merit. I hope everyone understands what it means. Kyrgyz Republic are a very strong opposition and it can never be easy.”

“Every team will fancy its chance to win in whichever group they are drawn into. That’s the beauty of the sport. On paper it looks favourable. It does give us the hope that we have a legitimate chance to qualify from the group,” said Constantine.

Even if Constantine doesn’t want to admit that it’s a straightforward group for India, the head coach will be confident of progression, especially after India’s recent eye-catching performances that has propelled the team to its best ranking in the past decade.

The UK-born coach has attributed the recently found success of the Blue Tigers to the change in mentality of the Indian players and also the resurgence of youngsters.

“When I came in some two years ago, I inherited a squad which had an average age of 32 and there was a culture of ‘we will be selected and play because there is no one else’ among many. When you develop that attitude, you will never get the results that you intend to,” said the Indian coach.

"I am all for bringing in youngsters on the pretext of them wanting to do the job that I want them to do. Actually the squad needs to be a balance of experienced and young players. They this is the second time that I have been here and I did the same thing the first time too – I am building a squad for the next 4-5 years. I always look to the future,’ he signed off.

This is Stephen Constantine’s second stint as the head coach of the Indian national team, having first managed the team from 2002 till 2005.

In his 18 matches in charge of the Indian team in the second stint, Constantine has guided India to 9 wins and 7 losses since 2015.

| Edited by: Baidurjo Bhose
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