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Decision to not send a team at Asian Games appalling: Stephen Constantine

The Indian Olympic Association (IOA) had decided not to send the men’s and women’s teams to the Asian Games as they were not medal contenders

football Updated: Jul 29, 2018 21:03 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Asian Games,Stephen Constantine,IOA
Stephen Constantine was looking at the Asian Games as part of preparation for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup. (PTI)

The India under-23 players begin their 35-day preparatory camp from Monday for the SAFF Cup football tournament to be held in Dhaka in September. But national coach Stephen Constantine still cannot get over the fact that India will not be sending the football team to the Asian Games in Jakarta beginning August 18.

The Indian Olympic Association (IOA) had decided not to send the men’s and women’s teams to the Games as they were not medal contenders. But the All India Football Federation (AIFF) and the national coach were looking at the Asian Games as part of preparation for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup finals for which India have qualified for the first time since 2011.

“It’s an appalling decision,” Constantine said at a media conference on Sunday. “It’s unfair to take this decision based on India’s past performance at the Games,” he said. “This is a completely different team from the one we had four years or eight years back. We had a very good chance of qualifying from the group stage this time,” the Anglo-Cypriot coach, who had taken charge of the national team in February 2015, said.

Surprisingly, the SAFF Cup squad has an exposure trip of Australia lined up before the tournament. “The tour of Australia had already been planned keeping in mind the Asian Games. We had thought the boys will train and play practice matches there and travel to Jakarta from Australia.

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“But now that we are not going to the Asian Games, we will treat it just as an exposure trip. By the way, we still have not received an official word that we are not going to the Asian Games. I am very disappointed. It is a decision that will hurt football,” Constantine, under whom India have climbed in the Fifa rankings from a dismal 173 to the current 97, said.

In the SAFF Cup, India will open their campaign against Sri Lanka on September 5 and play Maldives on September 9. The semi-finals are on September 12 and the final is on September 15. In the build up to the Asian Cup, the India senior team will play a friendly against China either on October 13 or 16 and according to the coach, another friendly against Oman on December 27 in Abu Dhabi has already been lined up. “We are trying to get two more warm-up matches before the Asian Cup. We will play two matches in December in Abu Dhabi and we plan to camp there,” Constantine said.

The coach is planning at least a month-long camp with the senior squad in December and for that the leagues will have to take a break. “I am expecting the same kind of cooperation from the clubs. They have shown great commitment to the national side by releasing these players now which is hurting their pre-seasons. In December too, I am expecting that commitment,” Constantine said.

First Published: Jul 29, 2018 21:03 IST