Constantine: 'India will reach its best-ever FIFA ranking soon'

Owing to seven international wins on the trot since last year, the Indian team is ranked 100th. Constantine said by the time the Asian Cup qualifiers end in March next year, India will be placed better than the 94th rank it achieved in February 1996.

"It is good to see that we are moving upwards. As long as we are moving up, and in that sense FIFA rankings can be a guide for us,” said Stephen Constantine.   -  PTI

Indian football coach Stephen Constantine is sure that the side under him will improve upon its best-ever FIFA ranking of 94 in the next few months, as he trains his guns on taking the country to a third Asian Cup.

Owing to seven international wins on the trot since last year, the Indian team is ranked 100th. Constantine said by the time the Asian Cup qualifiers end in March next year, India will be placed better than the 94th rank it achieved in February 1996.

“I am not very good at mathematics. But if we are 93, I would be the happiest man. That would be the historical highest. I am going to do it. I don’t know if it will be on July 6 (next FIFA ranking date) but I am going to do it. I don’t know if that (Kyrgyzstan win on June 13 in Asian Cup qualifiers) will push us that far but I hope to make history at the end of these qualifiers,” Constantine told PTI in an interview.

India beat Kyrgyzstan on June 13 in Bangalore to place itself on the course to qualify for the Asian Cup in 2019. The qualifying round matches will continue till March next year.

India’s next match is against Macau on September 5.

If India qualifies for the 2019 Asian Cup, it will be only the third time it would have made it to the flagship continental tournament after 1984 and 2011.

The 54-year-old Constantine, who is in his second stint as India coach after the first one in 2002-2005, said that his side was not playing with only the FIFA rankings in mind.

“The FIFA rankings are a little bit misleading, it does not tell the whole story. Because, that depends on the number of games you play, who you play with, what the other teams do and what other teams do not do.

“It’s difficult to judge whether we are the 11th best nation in Asia or we are 90-something in the world. There are a lot of very good teams who are below us because they did not play or they lost to bigger teams,” said Constantine, who is here with the India Under-23 team for a 10-day national camp ahead of next month’s continental qualifiers.

“I don’t get carried away with the FIFA rankings. My immediate aim is to qualify for the 2019 Asian Cup and we are in a pretty good position for that. It is good to see that we are moving upwards. As long as we are moving up, and in that sense FIFA rankings can be a guide for us,” said Constantine, who began his second stint as the national coach in March last year.

There had been criticism from certain quarters that India only plays against Nepal, Palestine and Cambodia. Asked if he picks the team to play against, Constantine said, “We need to play games, not for FIFA rankings, but for the ability of the players to gel and understand each other.

“Our plan was to play as often as possible. We pick teams that are available and that suits us depending on who are going to play in the qualifiers.

“There is no point for us to go and play China when we are playing, say, Lebanon in a qualifier. We are not going to play a Jordan, we are not going to play a Qatar. Yes, we plan out which country we will play against, but we did not plan around the FIFA rankings.”

He is quite satisfied that India will get around 10 international matches this year, including three in the Asian Cup qualifiers.

“It (the number of matches) depends on the calendar of national league and international qualifiers. We will play 10 or 12 games this year. Most international teams that are active play around 10 games. There are five FIFA windows and in each window you get nine days and in that nine, you usually play two matches. So, playing 10 matches is a good number.”

Asked if the 1-0 win over Kyrgyzstan was the best match for India under him in his second stint, Constantine said, "No, it was a fantastic result but the same in case of Myanmar (1-0 win in Asian Cup qualifiers) also. I don’t want to pick one or two matches and say this was the best match."

“Winning the SAFF Championships by beating Afghanistan was fantastic. Beating Guam with 10 men was superb. We had some very good results in the last two years. Kyrgyzstan match was the best, which was the last. So the last is always the best. We have played some very good football and won games. We have also won games but not played our best.”

Constantine began his second stint with a string of losses in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers and that had put his job on the line before he got a one-year extension in March.

“I said at the very first press conference that there are going to be dark days. At that time, we had not beaten Nepal for two years, we were at 173rd in FIFA rankings. During the World Cup qualifiers, we were not a (good) team, we had so many new players, from different systems, different coaches, different (philosophies).

“You cannot change all of these in three, four or five games, that is not possible. It is not overnight. The average age of the team is 23 now (from 30), you have a team (for) the future now, for at least five-six years,” said the coach, who has been responsible for over 30 debuts in just over one year.

Asked if he would continue as coach after next year, Constantine replied: “Our next game (Asian Cup qualifiers) is in September and I am not looking past September. I am speaking honestly. First, India must qualify and then after that, it’s a whole different situation. First, let us qualify and see what happens."