Indian football team: Constantine trying to protect Sunil Chhetri as much as he can

Indian national team head coach Stephen Constantine with goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu
AIFF Media
Ahead of the friendly match against Nepal, Constantine shares his views on the team's latest ranking, Chhetri's future and the team news for Tuesday.

The Blue Tigers will take on The Gorkhalis on Tuesday evening as the two sides prepare themselves for their respective upcoming AFC Asian Cup qualifying ties. Nepal, India's neighbouring nation, agreed to contest an international friendly with the Indian contingent after Lebanon backed out of the clash following trouble over procuring visas for its players.

Koji Gyotoku's Nepal side are currently placed 169th as per the latest FIFA rankings whereas the hosts are positioned at the 100th spot. However, head coach Stephen Constantine does not believe that the low ranking undermines Nepal's ability to trouble India. The Englishman termed the Nepalese side as a group of persistent players. Further, the 54-year-old appreciated Nepal's response on accepting the offer for the friendly tie and discussed the importance of playing more fixtures.

''I don't think there are any easy teams at international level. Every team has a different challenge. We expect a tough game from Nepal as always. Nepal is a very hard working team. They give everything they have in every game they play.

"I know the mentality there, so we expect the usual from them, which is fight until you can't fight anymore. This is an opportunity for me to thank Nepal for taking this match up in the last moment. We need the games, it's important for us,'' he remarked.

Also read: India vs Nepal Preview - Blue Tigers set for Gorkhali test at Mumbai

Further, the gaffer also mentioned that the tie in Mumbai will be a platform for the young guns to prove themselves and thereby assure themselves of a place in the team for the Kyrgyzstan game. ''I hope to get a win and some decent performances from some players who will be trying to make their claim for a starting position in the game against Kyrgyz Republic,'' he stated.

The Indian side jumped several places on the FIFA rankings to hit the 100th spot in the latest FIFA rankings. Speaking on the topic, Constantine described the success as a cumulative effort of the players and federation alike. ''It is not easy to take a team from 173 to 100. That cannot be done without the hard work and commitment from the players, staff, backroom staff, people in the All India Football Federation (AIFF)  and everybody else connected with the national team,'' he revealed.

India training ahead of the international friendly against Nepal

The achievement of clinching a position in the top 100 has been appreciated nation-wide but Constantine believes that the ranking does not make the Indian team a superior side. Moreover, he debated the journey of India's progress and the people's reactions prior to the success.

''Being 100 does not mean we are favourites or have become a super team or that we are ready for the World Cup. It is not just dependent on just what we do. An AFC qualifier is far more important than a friendly or SAFF competition. We need to be in the big competitions. Mr. (Praful) Patel mentioned that he would like to see us at 50. Is it possible? Yes. We worked so hard to get 100, so the next target should be 50. We need to be in the AFC Finals, try and qualify for the World Cup. I applaud his optimism. It is possible but needs a lot of hard work. When I said we need to be in top 100 two years ago, people laughed. They're not laughing anymore,'' he exclaimed.

More from the friendly: Indian National Football Team: Know Your Rivals - Nepal

However, the job does not end here for Stephen and co. The coach aims to make the team grow at each step and is currently focusing on facing Nepal with an aim to clinch a victory. ''The FIFA rankings are just one aspect to it. It is not 'We're a 100 and that's it', that's not my nature. We will be pushing to break the 100 and after that, we'll see what happens. Our main priority at the moment is Nepal,'' he explained.

Indian international Sunil Chhetri with gaffer Stephen Constantine

Article continues below

Indian ace Sunil Chhetri has been kept out of the tie at the Mumbai Football Arena against the Himalayan side as the Bengaluru FC custodian is recovering from his hamstring injury. Coach Constantine will be saving the striker for the future as he does not wish to risk playing him in the international friendly. Further, he commented on the talisman's international future.

''I hope he (Sunil Chhetri) has many more years. At 32, we have to start thinking what's next. It will be a loss to Indian football if he decides to hang up his boots. I hope that's not now. I am protecting him as much as I possibly can. Someone will have to replace him in the future, but who's it? I don't know,'' claimed the London-born coach.

Lastly, an update on the team news was provided as Constantine mentioned the absence of the three players of the Southern Eagles. ''CK Vineeth is definitely out. Udanta (Singh) is also definitely out. We are being cautious with Sunil (Chhetri). He will not play any part against Nepal. He is not 22 anymore, so I'm just trying to protect him,'' Stephen signed off.