Stephen Constantine: People got a good look at what we are capable of
The Indian national team got off to a splendid start in the AFC Asian Cup 2019 with a resounding 4-1 victory over Thailand at the Al Nahyan Stadium in Abu Dhabi on Sunday. Goals from Sunil Chhetri, Anirudh Thapa and Jeje Lalpekhlua sealed the tie for the Blue Tigers, taking them to the top of Group A. The victory also marked India’s first win in the AFC Asian Cup since 1964.
At the post-match press conference, head coach Stephen Constantine shared his thoughts on the team’s victory. The Englishman began by expressing his satisfaction with the performance. "Obviously delighted with the performance. I thought the boys fought for the entire 93 minutes. We are just very happy to get our first win in the AFC Asian Cup for some years," he said.
After being on the backfoot somewhat in the first-half, India came out all guns blazing in the second-half and took the match away from their opponents. When asked about the words of advice he gave the boys at half-time, Constantine said, "We took the lead but gave the ball away too much (in the first-half). We had some small adjustments at half-time. We tried to keep the ball better in the second-half and we did. Of course, it helped when we got the early goal and Thailand were on the backfoot from then on.”
Constantine stressed the importance of not getting too carried away with the result but maintained that opposition teams should start taking his team more seriously. "We want to compete and we have done very well in the last 2-3 years. We are not getting carried away. We need another two points, at least, to qualify. I think today people got a good look at what we are capable of," he stated.
A big surprise when the team sheets were announced was the inclusion of youngster Ashique Kuruniyan in the Blue Tigers' starting XI. However, Constantine’s decision worked out brilliantly as the FC Pune City winger emerged as a pivotal force behind India’s victory. The Englishman heaped praise on Ashique, saying, "Well, it’s my job to take decisions and pick the team. Ashique is young, raw and strong. He needs to do a lot of things to be the complete player. He is a bit quicker than Jeje and Balwant (Singh) and that was the thought process. We tried to stretch Thailand and make it difficult for them and the boy did not stop running."
India will look to cement a place in the knockout stage when they next face hosts UAE on Thursday. The match will be, in all likelihood, India's toughest fixture in Group A, but the 56-year-old remained unfazed by the prospect of facing them. "The whole AFC Asian Cup excites me. We are a very young team, so we are very excited at the prospect of playing all three teams. Of course, UAE will be a different game being the home nation. They are a very good side, but they are just another team standing in our way," he said.
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