Defending champions India will lock horns against the Maldives in the final of the SAFF Championship 2018 at the Bangabandhu Stadium in Dhaka, Bangladesh on Saturday.
Stephen Constantine, head coach of the Indian national team, made it clear that his team do not fear the opposition even if they expect a tough fight. He also elaborated the reasons behind choosing a pool of U23 players for the SAFF Cup instead of bringing the senior players.
"These boys do not get the opportunity to play at the top level and my belief is that we should be developing our younger players by giving them more opportunities. I think the SAFF gives us a fantastic opportunity to do this without any disrespect to the tournament. I think we have deserve to be in the final. We want to see our boys under pressure and so far so good.
"I want to give our U23 (players) the right kind of exposure. The Asian Games and the Olympics are the only tournaments that the U23 side gets to play. So when will they get the experience? Coming here and playing against the senior sides of Pakistan and Maldives is going to develop them so much quicker. If we had brought the senior team most of the boys would not have seen the pitch.
"From where will the replacements of Jejes (Jeje Lalpekhlua), Chhetris (Sunil Chhetri), Jhingans (Sandesh Jhingan) come from? They will come from the U23s. But if the U23s are not up to the mark and you put them against China and Iran you know the result. It was very important for the development of Indian football to bring them here," explained the British tactician.
Constantine did not want to tag India as favourites for the final in spite of winning 2-0 against the Maldives earlier in the tournament. He showed full respect to the Red Snappers but at the same time made it clear that his boys are fearless going into the final.
"Don't disrespect the performance of the Maldives against Nepal. They soaked up a lot of pressure. They scored on the counter-attack and just when Nepal thought they were getting into the game, Maldives scored twice in 15 minutes. They have some very good players and against us, they did not play three of their main players. We are taking one game at a time. They have our full respect but we fear no one," said the Intercontinental Cup-winning coach.
India will miss pacey winger Lallinzuala Chhangte as he picked up a red card in the semi-final against Pakistan.
"Of course we are going to miss him (Chhangte) as he is an important player for us. There was no need for both the players to react. It was not a nasty game. It was being played in a true sporting manner. Politics and other stuff were put aside and football was played by both teams. But, yes he will be missed," stated Constantine.
"When I took up the job my target was to qualify for the Asian Cup. We have handed 38 players their international debut in four years. So you have 38 more players. We have reached the Asian Cup and it is an extremely proud moment for the players and the staff. Now my next target is to get out of the group. We want to qualify from our group in the Asian Cup. It is our next target," signed off Constantine.