India have been drawn alongside Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar & Macau in the final qualification round for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup to be held in United Arab Emirates (UAE). While almost every football fanatic in the country has opined that it’s an easy draw for The Blue Tigers, coach Stephen Constantine was realistic in his judgment.
“On paper it looks favourable. It does give us the hope that we have a legitimate chance to qualify from the group,” said the Englishman who has helped India win nine of their last 11 matches.
He explained that it will be daft to consider the likes of Myanmar (159) and Macau (184) as weaker teams just because they are ranked considerably lower than India.
“I need to take you back to the draw of the World Cup Qualifiers where we were drawn with Guam and Turkmenistan and there was a generic feeling all around – ‘no problem, we will have it easy.’ Myanmar has made it to the final of the Suzuki Cup and on the back of qualifying on merit to the FIFA U-20 World Cup under their German coach (Gerd Ziese), they are a very difficult team to play at home,” he elucidated.
He chose not to focus on Macau and Kyrgyzstan games and prefers to take one game at a time.
“Let us take one match at a time. There are no easy games for us,” he quipped.
Kushal Das, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) general secretary, had informed Goal that India will in all probability look to play an international opponent before they take on Myanmar on March 28 in an away fixture.
“Given that we are playing an away game first, we want to play an international friendly on our way to Myanmar. It would benefit us to have valuable match practice as the intensity of international football is entirely of a different level than domestic football. Let me reiterate, Myanmar won’t ever be an easy opposition away or even at home,” he stated.
Constantine, who played a key role in Rwanda becoming the highest gainers in the FIFA rankings a couple of years earlier, wants to begin preparations for the game against Myanmar when the I-League gets a break in March.
“The plan is to assemble on the weekend of March 11/12 as the players would start to assemble after their respective Hero I-League games. But there would be boys who would be involved in the AFC Cup and we will only have them available some days later,” he cited.
The 54-year-old reiterated that he is open to picking new players for the national team provided they put in a good shift in the ongoing I-League.
“I have always said the players who do the work will get the opportunity. The door is open to each and every Indian player who qualifies to play for India. Myself and Venky (Shanmugam Venkatesh) are following the I-League very closely and watching players. We will make our selections based on what we know and what we see,” he signed off.