Indian Football - Stephen Constantine: 'India's qualification to the 2019 Asian Cup the ultimate goal'

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Ajith Namboothiri
Constantine stresses on competition for places while scouting for national team talent, believes 2019 Asian cup qualification possible...

Stephen Constantine, the coach of the Indian national team, is in ebullient mood, considering the Blue Tigers climbed to a record 129th in the Federation International de Football Association (FIFA) year ending rankings table of 2016. 

However, the British-Cypriot coach is taking nothing for granted and wants to ensure the best pool of players are selected to represent the national team, especially with the looming Asian Football Confederation's (AFC) Asian Cup 2019 qualification group stages. 

"A quick look back at 2016 saw our Indian National Team make significant steps forward both in the FIFA rankings and on the pitch," began Constantine, on his personal blog. 

He continued, "We started the new year ranked 129th our highest position for 10 years, and won 9 from the last 11 games. Of course, there is still much to do." 

Citing the Asian Cup qualification as an important milestone, the former record setting Rwanda coach explained that competition will be at its highest for spots amongst the national team’s ranks, this year. 

"So many positives came from last year and we are moving in the right direction, but we really need to kick on and make sure we are doing the right things both on the domestic front and internationally. The I-League is in full flow and I will be trying to attend as many games as possible. Over the last two years, we have created competition for all positions and there are no guarantees for anyone," he sternly instructed. 

India has 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). The draw was held on 23rd January in Abu Dhabi. 

The 54 year-old was obviously was a keen observer of his team's opponents, group A, and his opinion of the draw ranged from bright to cautious. 

"Last week the AFC Cup draw for the final group stages was made in Abu Dhabi and we came out of the pot in Group A with Kyrgyzstan Myanmar and Macau respectively which on paper I feel gives us a decent chance to make to the finals in the Emirates in 2019. As always, I go into these games knowing that we need to be at our best and of course prepare for some difficult games home and away.

"We are I feel in a position where we can qualify from this group and I will do everything in my power to make sure we do. The players the fans and all Indians need to get behind our national team and help us take the next step we will all benefit one way or another and India in the Finals is the ultimate goal," he scripted, channeling the enthusiasm of all Indian football fans. 

Expressing his readiness to take bull by the horns, the former Millwall assistant coach recorded, "We have quite a full program and we will need to be very careful in our preparation, both on and off the field. It's imperative that we play games and try and keep the team together so that we give ourselves the best possible chance to qualify for the finals. I have already started to plan the national team schedule and look forward to everyone pulling in the same direction."

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Earlier this year, the London-born coach signed a contract extension with the All India Football Federation (AIFF) to keep him at the helm of the Blue Tigers up until the end of March, 2018. 

Elucidating on the same, he penned, "I have also renewed my contract in India for another 14 months that would take me up to the end of March 2018 when we would be playing our last game away to Kyrgyzstan. Somewhere in between the AFC qualifiers, we also have the U 23 AFC Championship qualifiers and we will need to prepare for this as well as the senior team.

"All the best and Jai Hind!" concluded the gaffer.