Stephen Constantine: ‘Individual errors cost us’

Having already secured a berth in the final, Stephen Constantine decided to test his bench strength and opted for a completely different side, with as many as seven changes from the XI that featured in the wins against Chinese Taipei and Kenya.

Stephen Constantine went on to reveal that he initially had no plans of playing any of his regular starters. (File Photo)   -  PTI

India's six-match unbeaten run at Mumbai Football Arena was shattered on Thursday when it slumped to a disappointing 2-1 loss against New Zealand in its Intercontinental Cup group match.

Having already secured a berth in the final, Stephen Constantine decided to test his bench strength and opted for a completely different side, with as many as seven changes from the XI that featured in the wins against Chinese Taipei and Kenya.

With most senior players rested, the game was seen as an opportunity for fringe players to gain some game time and to stake a claim for a spot in the starting XI in the upcoming AFC Asian Cup. However, the move only exposed the inadequacy and shortcomings of the bench.

READ: Intercontinental Cup: NZ hands India 2-1 defeat

Among the fringe players introduced into the tie were Rowlin Borges, Pritam Kotal and Mohammed Rafique. Borges struggled in the midfield and often held on to the ball for far too long, and simply failed to play the right pass, while Kotal, on the right, was left dancing to Sarpeet Singh's tunes as he was simply no match to Sarpreet's pace or dribbling abilities.

Also, Rafique, who collided with Sarpreet in the 18th minute, was taken off soon, with Constantine saying the midfielder was “struggling on the pitch” in the post-match conference.

Commenting on the loss, Constantine said, “We are using the games we have between now and the AFC Asian Cup to prepare for the AFC Cup. You can't rely on 11 players to play from now until the end of January. You're not going to have 11 Sunil Chhetri's or Sandesh Jhingan's. We started with seven players from the bench today and some players didn't take the opportunity.”

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“When you win two games 3-0 and 5-0, you get a little carried away. New Zealand are a young side and are well-disciplined. We scored first and let two silly goals in. Individual errors cost us today. This is part of the learning process,” added the Englishman.

He went on to reveal that he initially had no plans of playing any of his regular starters. “Jeje (Lalpekhlua) was never going to play if we won the first two games. I didn't even want to play Sunil (Chhetri), but you know what he's like. Halicharan (Narzary), Sandesh (Jhingan) and Anas (Edathodika) were never going to play,” he said.

However, things clearly did not go as planned as Jeje, Halicharan and Pronay Halder were introduced at half-time. Constantine, then, brought on Sandesh Jhingan for Narayan Das, and by the 75th minute, he had made five substitutions and had virtually replaced all the fringe players, barring keeper Amrinder Singh, debutant Salam Ranjan Singh and Kotal.

Despite having almost all their regular players on the pitch for a good portion of the second half, the Indians were outplayed by the young Kiwi side. The loss will sting for certain, but Constantine will have a bigger concern to address, the team's Achilles heel, its unsteady bench.

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