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AFC Asian Cup

AFC Asian Cup 2019: Stephen Constantine - 'I've stuck by my players and they have stuck by me'

3:47 am AEDT 10/1/19
Stephen Constantine India vs Thailand
The British coach wants India to become a regular at the Asian Cup....

India head coach Stephen Constantine has hailed his players for having bought into his philosophy and given their all to help the Blue Tigers qualify for the AFC Asian Cup.

After making it into the tournament after an eight-year gap, India started with a bang when they defeated Thailand 4-1 in their group opener. Now, ahead of their second match against UAE, Constantine credited his support staff and all the players who were involved under him for helping India climb from the doldrums they were in four years ago when he took charge (India were 173rd in the FIFA rankings in 2015).

"Four years ago we started the journey, which was the pre-qualifiers against Nepal in Guwahati, we were 173rd (in FIFA rankings) and no one respected us or gave us much chance to qualify from the groups," he said.

"We did it the long way. The players that have played for me in the last four years, even the ones who are not here gave everything for the cause. You can't ask for more. I've stuck by those players and they've stuck by me and as a result, we are here, so it was a long long process.

"Huge credit also to the backroom staff, they work till 2-3 am in the morning, ensuring the players are healthy and fit on the pitch. It is a complete effort by everybody."

The 56-year-old also revealed that he was astounded by the fact that Sunday's win over Thailand was only India's first win at this stage in 55 years. The Brit went on to insist that it was high time the team became a regular in the continental tournament.

"When I had started, we have zero expectations. It's great that we have given so many people hope through football. Hope that India can be finally amongst the elite, not by chance but because they deserve to be there. I want everyone to believe that we can qualify. We deserve to be here and more frequently.

"Someone told me after the game, it was the first win in 55 years, I was like wow! It can't be like this for us. We need to be qualifying regularly for these tournaments and hopefully, that will happen in the future."

India are now set to play two West Asian teams, who are traditionally strong, in UAE and Bahrain. But Constantine is perturbed and is looking for inspiration from India's positive results against Oman (0-0) and Jordan (1-2 loss away).

"Oman are the Gulf Cup champions. So, drawing with them was an encouraging result. We lost 2-1 with Jordan with half a team and obviously, China (0-0) was a great result. But with Jordan and Oman, the similarities were there and these were important games and that is why we set them up.

"We have planned everything down to the last detail. We will try to get the result we need."