SAFF Championship: Constantine plays down India’s chances

For a country which is starved of much success in international football, home advantage can be a boon. But Stephen Constantine, the coach of the Indian football team, scaled down the expectations of home fans when he very realistically admitted that India were not the favourites for the SAFF football championship.

Stephen Constantine wants to include PIO players in the national team.   -  K MURALI KUMAR

For a country which is starved of much success in international football, home advantage can be a boon. But Stephen Constantine, the coach of the Indian football team, scaled down the expectations of home fans when he very realistically admitted that India were not the favourites for the SAFF football championship which will begin in Thiruvananthapuram on December 23.

Stephen was more worried about the lack of preparedness of the Indian squad rather than the strength of the rival teams. Though the squad assembled in Kochi a few days ago, several key players are missing from the camp due to their ISL commitments. The chief coach admitted that his team will be least prepared among the seven competing teams in the tournament and chose to downplay the favourites tag attached to the team.

“I don’t consider us as the favourites. The other teams are better prepared than us. Afghanistan have been training in Qatar. Sri Lanka, who came here a few days ago, have been training for three months. It is same with Nepal. Our top players Robin Singh and Sunil Chhetri will be joining the camp just five days. Ideally, I would have wanted them here already but the timing of the SAFF, ISL and the I-league makes it difficult. So I have to do it with five days,’’ he said.

However, Constantine said it was a tournament which India wanted to win at home but at the same time pointed out that if India fail to win it is not the end of the road for the country. “It is not a big tournament like the Asia Cup or World Cup but it is a local tournament where we will be playing against our contemporaries. It is good opportunity to blood the youngsters as we are trying to rebuild our squad,’’ he said.

The coach was frank and said that success could not be achieved overnight but added that he has set in a process which in the long run will see India improve its world ranking. “The team is in transition. We have reduced the average age from 32 to 24. This is a team which we will have for six or seven years. Our expectations needed to be lowered considering what we have achieved in the last five years,’’ he said.

The Indian coach said that the first thing he did as soon as taking over as coach was to start a talent scouting network. He added that talent scouting process was going on well under Abhishek Yadav and it was moving in the right direction. “As soon as I took over we had a workshop in Goa almost a year ago and the networking process has started in under-17, under-19 and under-23 levels. The onus now is on Under-17 since India is hosting the FIFA. The whole process is moving in the right direction under Abhishek,’’ he said.

The coach once again reiterated his earlier stance that he was in favour of including PIO players in the national squad as it could make an immediate difference. “When England, Spain, Germany and other countries are trying to bring such players we have Indians born outside the country who want to play for India. Why not include them? It is not a long term solution. But four or six players will make a big difference to the national team now.’’