Constantine to focus on the work rate ahead of the Final

Sunday will witness India taking on Kenya in the final of the inaugural Hero Intercontinental Cup at the Mumbai Football Arena. Kenya trumped New Zealand to reach the finals after a thumping 4-0 victory over Chinese Taipei, and will be a formidable opponent for the Blue Tigers. India, on the other hand, enter the fixture as the table toppers with six points and eight goals under their belt and are the favourites to be crowned the eventual champions.

Ahead of the all-important fixture, Stephen Constantine, the head coach of the Indian national team, addressed the media in the pre-match press conference. He began by evaluating Kenya, whom they had beaten 3-0 when the two teams had met earlier in the tournament. “I think what happened on the ground in the previous match is done and dusted. When we go to the next game, we can’t take anything for granted and we will definitely not take anything for granted. I think Kenya showed yesterday, that they are capable, especially from set pieces. We need to be very careful. Ofcourse, we respect them but we will try to win the game. We have a psychological advantage, so we will see.”

The Englishman also shared how different the approach would be, especially after the narrow 2-1 loss they succumbed to against New Zealand in their last match. “As I said before, we had qualified after the first two games and it was important for us that we gave the other players the opportunity to play and see if they can make a difference. Of course, when you make seven changes it is not always possible that the unit will play in the same cohesive way as they had played in the other games. We will field our full-strength in the final. We also have the two solid defenders - Sandesh (Jhingan) and Anas (Edathodika) at the back, so that will help. You have to put the right players in the right positions and that’s what we have tried to do.”

The tournament is specially organised by All India Football Federation (AIFF) to strengthen India’s preparation ahead of the 2019 AFC Asian Cup and Constantine spoke about the main targets the team have achieved in the process. “Obviously the ultimate target is to win it, the second was to reach the Final and the third was to top the group. Also, trying to include as many young players as possible has been my mantra. I believe in the youth and if they are good enough then they are old enough. In the last few years, of all the players handed debuts, almost 15 of them have shone. Thus, I think the future of Indian football is bright, but we must understand who we are and why we are. We have players in the country who has the quality to go out and play in other leagues and I would like to see that happen in the coming days.”

Anirudh Thapa, the 20-year-old who has grabbed eyeballs in all the three matches he has featured in for India post his debut against Chinese Taipei, was present alongside Constantine. He was asked how the team would prepare if it rained as hard as it did the last time, to which Thapa replied, “It depends on the ground. If there is water on the ground, we need to play accordingly. If it rains we need to play aerial balls and if it’s good enough, we will stick to our plans.”

Even Constantine was all praises for the young talent and also some of the other players in the squad. "This guy (pointing to Anirudh Thapa) has been outstanding so far. He can play in more than one position. If you talk of Pronay Halder, he can play as a defensive midfielder as well as a defender. The same applies for Dhanpal Ganesh as well, who's unfortunately ill. Also, Jerry (Lalrinzuala) can play as the left-back as well as upwards. The two central defenders in Sandesh (Jhingan) and Anas (Edathodika) have been outstanding for us and it is something we are happy about. You have to put the right people in the right place and this is what we are trying to do. What we focus on is the work rate and the boy sitting next to me (Thapa) has been terrific in his work rate. That's the kind of player we need in this Indian National Team,” he concluded.

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