Stephen Constantine: 'My target is to reach 93 in the FIFA rankings'

Sunil Chhetri's recovery remains a matter of concern for the Indian team, as it prepares for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers beginning next month in Bengaluru.

“Sunil Chhetri will be a part of the Indian national team, as long as I am here,” says Stephen Constantine.   -  PTI


The Indian national men’s football team’s coach, Stephen Constantine, discusses future targets for Indian football, currently ranked 100 in the world. Krygz Republic is a formidable opponent for the host at the 2019 AFC Asian Cup Qualifier next month in Bengaluru, which is preceded by a friendly against Nepal in Mumbai. The coach and probables assembled after the conclusion of the Federation Cup for a preparatory camp in Mumbai. The squad needs to deal with Sunil Chhetri’s availability, who is currently undergoing recovery in Bengaluru after suffering a hamstring tear. Excerpts from a chat at the Mumbai Football Arena:

On the Indian team’s targets after reaching 100 in the FIFA rankings, it’s highest in 21 years...

My target when I came here was to get the team into the top 100 in the FIFA rankings. My new target is to reach 93 (India’s highest ever world ranking), which wil happen if we qualify for the AFC Asian Cup. If given a choice, I would take the Asian Cup anytime. We need to beat Krygz Republic first though, and it will not be easy.

On Sunil Chhetri recovering from injury for the Krygyz Republic tie

Sunil has a grade one hamstring tear and has been told to rest for three to four weeks. Depending on how he recovers, a decision will be made. He will join the camp on June 2 and will be evaluated. It will most likely be a last-minute call. He may be on the bench (in the AFC Asian Cup Qualifier) and pushed in if we feel the need. He is surely not playing the Nepal game before that.

On a replacement for Chhetri, in case his recovery is slower than expected

There is going to be a time when we will be without Sunil (Chhetri). Maybe now, maybe next year, I don’t know how long. I have told him that as long as he is fit and doing the work we expect, he will be a part of the Indian national team, as long as I am here. We have players in every position eager to get into the playing squad.

On players joining the camp after the Federation Cup

The Federation Cup could not have come at a worse time. Three games in five days, played in 45 degrees temperature was going to be a problem. I had suggested (to the AIFF) that the Federation Cup be played as a knockout tournament. Due to prior commitments, the format could not be changed. Hopefully next year, the change will happen. We also need to discuss (with team coaches) about rotating players in the Federation Cup.

On considering Players of Indian Origin (PIO) for the national team

Brazil, Italy, Spain, Germany are doing it, why should we not? Four or five players (of Indian origin) would walk into this national team and make us better overnight. This is not my call. I am very happy with the players given to me, but if there was the opportunity to bring in Indian-origin players, guys who wish to play for India, it will just make things better.

The idea to induct PIO’s into the squad as a short-term solution..

The long-term solution is to improve the level of coaching here. We have talent. The problem is not looking after them. With the scouting network in place now, I feel that every boy knows that he has an opportunity. More than 50 per cent of academy players have been scouted in the last two and a half years. Eight players chosen from the Santosh Trophy and the Inter-University level have been registered for the U-23 team, whom we felt could contribute. Mind you, registered does not mean selected, scouting at this scale never happened before.

On a friendly against Nepal as replacement for a friendly against Lebanon (who pulled out) as preparation:

Lebanon is very good, after it pulled out it is difficult to arrange these games. I was looking for a former Soviet Union team to come here and play against us, sides whose style is similar to Krygz Republic. Nepal has been a thorn in our side for many years, the players run hard and fight for the ball. We need such games.

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