Facing neighbours China will be the right kind of evaluation for the Indian team, three months before the 2019 AFC Asian Cup, feels head coach Stephen Constantine.
Talking to the media before the Blue Tigers’ last training session before they board the flight to China on Tuesday, Constantine opined that the preparation for the game could have been better.
“Of course, it’s a problem because we don’t have much time to do what we really need to do. Going forward, I know that we have FIFA dates but we need a little bit more time. (Training only) 1-2 days before we go to play a game is difficult,” the London-born coach commented.
The first set of Indian Super League (ISL) fixtures ended on Sunday and Constantine could only spend less than 48 hours with the whole assembled squad before they board the flight. “The boys that played on the 7th (Sunday), they arrived on the 8th lunchtime (Monday), they couldn’t train that day otherwise we are going to get injuries, muscle tears and stuff like that.
“So, when we get the players from the clubs, because they have had games, they need at least two days to recover before we can start putting them in and we don’t have that time because in four days we play,” he complained.
The former Rwanda coach also spoke on the fitness levels of the players. “When they come into camp and we have time, we will test their levels. We can’t test their levels after they’ve played a day or two before. Most of them have had two games in the ISL and they’ve been training with their teams, hopefully, that’s going to be okay.”
Constantine also revealed that ATK striker Balwant Singh would miss the match due to a bizarre reason. “In another bit of news, Balwant Singh has had to drop out of the squad because his passport’s (remaining validity) is not exactly six months, it is five months and a week. It’s frustrating because Balli has done really well in the last 18 months with me. He is a player that we value very much and of course, he would have had some game time. But, there you go,” he informed.
The 55-year-old reiterated his wish to give youth more of a chance in national colours saying, “Look, I believe in building for the future and that’s what I came to do when I started. We’ve given 44 debuts in the last four years and I would say more than fifty per cent of them are under the age of 23, which is good for Indian football in the future and we hope that more and more youngsters are coming, of original age by the way, into the leagues so that we can use these players. I don’t care how old they are, the thing is are they good enough?”
When asked if more of those youngsters would be given a chance against Team Dragon on Saturday, Constantine hinted that he would be tempted to try out a couple.
“You wake up in the morning and say this is your eleven. Then something happens today and that is not your eleven or we have a Balwant situation. It fluctuates but I have an eleven in my head, the best eleven for this particular game and by the time Saturday comes, I can put that eleven in.
“But, if I don’t, we have enough players and for me, if there is an opportunity to blood a younger player, I will do that. I took an Under-23 team to the SAFF (Championships). I don’t know how many people have done that and I did it for a specific reason because those players ordinarily wouldn’t be here.
“There are 13 of them (in the squad now) because I saw them in action against Pakistan, the Maldives, I saw them in the final where there was pressure. The Pakistan game was a huge game for these young boys and they did very well. You can only find out about a player when he is under pressure.”
Talking up the opposition, who are ranked 76th in the world, he said, “China are obviously a good side, they play some good football, they like to play possession football but they also like to press high so it’s going to be a difficult game for us but these are the games that we have to play under pressure. They are a great indication of where we are and how far we need to go. It’s a friendly game but we will go out (positively) as I am sure they will.”
Lastly, the Briton emphasized the need for the players to go all out. ” You play for India. If you play Chess or Backgammon (for the country), you take it seriously. You are representing 1.4 Billion people. I can’t tell you the importance that I put on these games, friendly or no friendly.
“You are playing for India. Friendly is only in the word. These boys are gonna wanna go to the Asian Cup. They are gonna have to play for that position. We are not going there to lose. We will try to win the game. Okay, it is very difficult but our objective as always when we step on the pitch is to try to win. If we don’t win, we will take the positives out of the game and we take it from there.
” One has to be fully aware of what’s gonna face us in the Asian Cup. Big stadium, big crowd, China are a top team in the region and it’s gonna be very very tough and those are the kind of games where we find out how good we are or how far we have to go,” he expressed.
The match at the Suzhou Olympic Sports Centre Stadium at Suzhou City, Jiangsu province is scheduled to take place on Saturday, with the kick-off at 5.05 PM IST.