Four days before they cross swords with Cambodia in an international friendly ahead of their Asian Cup qualifier against Myanmar later this month, India head coach Stephen Constantine called for more international friendlies, stating that such fixtures are instrumental to a team’s consistency before crucial tournaments.
“You hear club coaches complain that they don’t have much time to prepare. So (for the) national team it’s even less,” he said. “There needs to be that level of consistency in the game. We need to understand each other and when you don’t play for one week, one month, it can be a problem. So it’s very important to have an international friendly before a qualifier. It helps gel the boys, try new players, and try new systems or whatever it is that you’re working on.”
The national team’s camp came to an end at the Andheri Sports Complex on Saturday. Speaking on the sidelines after the team’s final practice session, Constantine stressed that the disastrous World Cup qualifying campaign, in which the country ended at the bottom of their group last year, was a stepping stone for the squad to grow.
“In the first round of qualifiers (World Cup), we learnt how to compete. We were not competing against anybody two years back. We couldn’t even beat Nepal. So in these games we learnt how to compete. We will now have to learn how to qualify,” the British coach said, before adding that he felt a single-league system would help the nation perform better in international tournaments. “Which are the best leagues in Asia? We could say Iran, Saudi Arabia, etc. And what do they have in common?” When a journalist replied ‘one league’, he nodded in affirmation.
Constantine, who has handed debuts to over 30 players in his tenure, also added that he wants to rely on the squad and not experiment much by shuffling too many players. On being asked why there were no players from the Aizawl side, the current leaders in the I-League, Constantine added: “As a team, they are performing very well. We can say they are the Leicester City of India. But I have experimented over the last two years and I don’t need to do that now. I have a group of players I am comfortable with. So for somebody to come in, they need to be better than what I have, not the same as I have.”
He also said that being placed in a relatively easier pool should help their cause in the Asian Cup, but that shouldn’t make the players approach the games in a carefree manner. “On paper, it’s not bad, it could have been worse but we got to do it out there and for that we need to prepare here and get ourselves in the right position to qualify. But, yes, we have a chance.”
Apart from Myanmar, India also have Kyrgyz Republic and Macau in their group. The last time India took part in the Asian Cup finals was back in 2011 when under Bob Houghton the team finished at the bottom of their group to crash out.