By Stephen Constantine, Jul 6 2016 06:39AM
After almost 18 months into my second stint in India it is Mission Accomplished as far as I am concerned and before I outline things I really need to say a special thank you to all the support staff. Assistant Coach Venkatesh / Team Manager , Goalkeeping Coach Ramos, Sports Science Coach Danny Deigan, Assistant Coach Lee Johnson, Physio Gigy George, Doctor Sreejith Khamal, Kit Manager Sanjay Dhani, Masseur Liquait, Match Analyst Shankar Sigamani, Media Officer Nilanjan Dutta, and last but not least our National Team Coordinator Shantha Gopinath, there are many more people behind the scenes but the above mentioned are the ones that are with me on a daily basis and have been with me since I arrived. Thank You guys really appreciate all the hard work and sacrifices that you all make
with some of the staff after winning the SAFF Championship
Coming into India for the second time was is a huge challenge and while I feel we have achieved a great deal there is still a long way to go before I feel that we are in a position to regularly compete with the likes of Iran, South Korea, Australia and the real big hitters in the region. Eighteen months ago we were in our worst position ever in the FIFA rankings 180 and football and something needed to be done.
The first thing for me was to instill some confidence and game discipline which was severely lacking, to do this though we needed to change our approach and the feeling of comfortably. Creating competition for places was a must and giving opportunities to players who showed the right attitude was a must and in doing so we have given 28 players their International debuts in this period. Some of them have taken the opportunity with two hands and others need a little more time. The stand out names Rowlin Borges, Sandesh Jhingam, Gurpreet Singh, Ghanesh Dhanpal, Bikash Jairu, Sumeet Passi……………and well the list goes on .
Our key objective though was the Asian Cup and our first task was to beat Nepal , not winning that 2 legged affair would have meant no official qualifiers for the next 3 years !! so in eccense we were qualifying for the qualifiers !! and we did so going through 2-0 over the two legs. This was the first time in 8 years that India had qualified for the qualifiers !! The draw was as I expected a tough one Turkmenistan, Iran, Oman, and Guam respectively. As I mentioned the games were very difficult for us and made even harder when in some cases we did not have time to prepare the players. With so many young players getting their debuts it was always going to be that much harder but we needed to change things. I was looking long term and trying to build for the future, and although results didn’t go our we lost 4 of those games by the score of 2-1 I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. We now have a larger squad of players to call upon than ever before , our average age is 24, and there is competition for all places.
A large part of this success has been the Scouting Network that we started when I arrived and we are now seeing the benefits of this with some of the players coming from little known academies, second division teams , state teams and even the army !! Appointing Abhishek Yadav as the Director of Scouting was a very productive move and he has done a wonderful job for all our age groups.
Making history as the first Indian team in 15 years to win a qualifier away 1-0 in Laos.
After beating Laos 7-1 on aggregate we are where we wanted to be in the last stages of the AFC Cup qualifiers which begin in March 2017. I am really proud of the players all of them they have given me everything and while we have had a few results where we can say we could have done more overall they have been good. So looking forward the lads get a well earned break and time to be with their families and recover from what has been a hectic period for them. You need to consider that some of them are playing for 2 separate teams in 2 different leagues then being selected for the National Team as well.
After the break a tour of the West Coast of the United States will begin in mid August and give us much needed exposure to other styles of play with 2 Internationals due to take place and 2 games against US clubs.
Trying to make appoint to our strikers it must have worked we won 2nd leg 6-1 with goals from 5 different players.
Looking back It was a tough 18 months and I want to thank all the Indian supporters who have shown their support and I have had it from every corner of this great country the scenes in Trivandrum after the SAFF Win, the fans in Bangalore at our qualifiers were immense and the many supporters who greet me when I am travelling around the country watching games….