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SAFF Championship

2018 SAFF Championship: Nikhil Poojary - Stephen Constantine wants a high-intensity game

2:50 am AEST 7/8/18
India U23 Camp
NIkhil Poojary and Hitesh Sharma hope the India U23 camp helps them to make a lasting impact....

The Indian national team has been preparing in New Delhi for the upcoming SAFF Championship for close to two weeks now.

Head coach Stephen Constantine has called up all U23 players except one for the tournament next month. Winger Nikhil Poojary and Forward Hitesh Sharma look to make the best use of it, as they discussed in a media interaction on Monday.

Poojary, who missed the whole of last season owing to an ACL injury is looking forward to regaining full match-fitness. "I was injured. I was doing rehab. It was tough but now I feel good, training with these guys. They are fitter so it is a chance for me to get fit," he said.

"I was out injured for a year so I am glad they have called me up. SAFF Championship will be an opportunity to prove myself," the former East Bengal man said, hoping for a reboot in his fortunes.

The 22-year-old also had an eye in getting back to the senior squad with the AFC Asian Cup looming early next year. He said, "The SAFF Championship will help us a lot. We have to prove ourselves. Maybe some of us can play in the Asian Cup in January.

"It is six months from now, let us see what he (coach Stephen Constantine does with the team. I hope we do well. The coach wants a high-intensity game."

Having recently signed his first Indian Super League (ISL) contract with FC Pune City, Poojary pointed out what he felt were the differences between the cash-rich league and the I-League. "There are no differences in standard but there is professionalism in ISL.

"I-League is not bad, people think it is not working. It is working, it has produced many players down the line. ISL is producing players now. We should give time to ISL and let the league prove itself."

Hitesh Sharma on the other hand, had his breakthrough season in the ISL the previous term where he rubbed shoulders with the likes of Robbie Keane and Teddy Sheringham week in, week out.

"Teddy Sheringham always insisted on playing with the ball. He always guided me. Here, there is a different style. I am at that age where I just have to just improve," he replied when asked about the difference in style between his club and the national team camp.

He added, " All coaches are different because they all have a different style of play. I think a player is good if he can adjust in every situation with every coach. I am a young player so I have to improve in different situations under different coaches. My career has just started."

The 20-year-old revelled in the fact that the team was a U23 one and the seniors were rested for the SAFF Championship, opening the door for players like him instead.

"It is the coach's decision to play U23 players at the SAFF Championship and it is a great opportunity for us. We have to play well.  It is a great opportunity to improve and play for the national team. I am working on it, I hope I will do well in the upcoming matches," he concluded.

Meanwhile, Constantine trimmed the camp from the initial list of 34 players. Taufiq Kabir, Chinglensana Singh, Deependra Singh Negi, Arjun Jayaraj and Kivi Zhimomi were released along with Daniel Lalhlimpuia who is out for more than two weeks owing to an injury.