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Found squad’s nucleus that should serve for next four-six years: Constantine

football Updated: Apr 04, 2017 18:36 IST
India coach Stephen Constantine is hopeful that a young team will take India to the 2019 Asian Cup finals.

India coach Stephen Constantine is hopeful that a young team will take India to the 2019 Asian Cup finals. (AP)

Had Bolivia not beaten Argentina last week, India coach Stephen Constantine would have been happier. That’s because India then would have been 97 in the Fifa rankings that will be out on April 6, he said here on Tuesday. As it stands India are set to be at 101, their highest since 1993 when the rankings started.

As head coach of Rwanda --- his last assignment --- Constantine had taken them to their highest Fifa ranking of 68. Speaking after conducting a two-day scouting workshop organised by the All India Football Federation (AIFF) on the initiative of the West Bengal sports ministry, Constantine said, it’s difficult to compare which feels better.

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“I am proud of what we achieved in Rwanda, where football is at a different level and where we moved from 135 to 68 and I am immensely proud of what we are doing here. Can we do better? Absolutely,” said Constantine.

Under his watch, India, now 132, would have moved nearly 70 slots in a little over two years. India’s rankings will significantly move north on the back of their successive away wins, in Cambodia and Myanmar, last month.

Constantine also said that he has now found the nucleus of the squad that should serve India in the next four to six years. “We have a team that will hopefully take us to the (2019) Asian Cup finals. The average age is around 24 but I will always be looking for players. We now have so much competition in the national team...we have three-four players for right-back, three-four as left-back and no one’s certain.” He has handed debuts to 30 players since taking charge in April 2015.

Chhetri model professional

“Sunil Chhteri is a model professional who is consistent, looks after himself and keeps popping up at the right place to score goals. But we are not dependent on him. There are other players,” said Constantine who goes home on Wednesday and will be back by end-April.

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Asked to compare between Chhetri and Bhaichung Bhutia, who was captain for most of his first stint as coach, Constantine said: “Both are great players and leaders but Bhaichung was probably more aggressive because of the time he spent in England. But Sunil is also someone who gives you more options; you can get him to come off the flanks as well.”

Mum on merger

Having spoken about the Indian Super League (ISL) early in his second stint, not all of which was complimentary, Constantine was more guarded when the conversation moved to the possibility of a merger.

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“Good question,” he said, before adding “all I want is games where Indians play and I can see them and select them for the national team…But the ISL has made us universal. It has shown that Indians can play and are not very bad at it. And now with the under-17 World Cup, we are centre-stage. But once Fifa’s gone, we need to look after the facilities and not be looking for a pitch to play.”

Bengaluru likely venue

Constatine also said home games of India’s Asian Cup qualifiers are likely to be in Bengaluru. India play Kyrgyz Republic on June 13 at home next in the qualifiers.