Constantine warns Indian football team not to underestimate Thailand
The Indian football team has been in an impressive run in the form in recent months but head coach Stephen Constantine Saturday warned his players not to underestimate Thailand in their campaign-opening match of the Asian Cup here Sunday. India, taking part in their fourth Asian Cup and first since 2011, have come into the continental showpiece after creditable draws against China and Oman in the lead-up to the tournament. They lost narrowly (1-2) to Jordan in their third big match ahead of the Asian Cup. These results were preceded by a 13-match unbeaten run in international friendly matches and the Intercontinental Cup at home last summer.
But, Constantine asked his players to just focus on giving their best in the tournament. "Thailand are a very good side and they are not to be underestimated at all. We're in no position to underestimate anybody. We have to take one game at a time," he said ahead of Sunday's crucial match. "We'll give everything we have as we have continued to do in the last four years. We'll obviously do our best to get the result that we need," he added. Thailand are still a strong side though they recently failed to defend their ASEAN Football Federation Championship title. The team which was eliminated by Malaysia in the semifinals of AFF Championship did not have four key players based abroad.
The four foreign-based players were named for the Asian Cup but Belgium based goalkepeer Kawin Thamsatchanan was ruled out last week due to injury. The South East Asian side still have captain and striker Teerasil Dangda, Theerathon Bunmathan and Chanathip Songkrasin (nicknamed 'Thai Messi') -- all plying trade in Japan's top-tier J League. Sunday's Group A match against Thailand at the Al Nahyan Stadium will be crucial for India as a positive result will boost their chances of making it to the knock-out round. The two top sides from each of the six groups made up of four countries as well as four third-place teams will advance to the Round of 16. Constantine said his players were looking forward to the opening match with confidence.
"We can't wait for the game to kick-off. It's time for the show. We have a really young team. I wish they perform to their abilities. I'm sure we'll do fine," the 56-year-old Anglo-Cypriot said. A lot of travelling fans -- the Blue Pilgrims -- have already landed in Abu Dhabi to cheer for the Blue Tigers, while a large number of expatriate Indians are expected to throng the Al Nahyan Stadium to cheer the Indian team. "We need the support of our Indian friends from Abu Dhabi and all over the UAE. It's not every day you go and see the Indian national team play in Asian Cup, and now it's at your doorstep. This is a huge event as well as a huge opportunity for the Indians to see their national team play at the highest stage in the continent," Constantine said.
"Personally, it's a proud moment for me to lead India to Asian Cup. It has been a long difficult road which took more than three years to get here. The AIFF believed in me and allowed me to continue," said Constantine who took charge of the team in 2015 in his second stint as India head coach. This is India's fourth participation in the Asian Cup, the last being in Doha in 2011. The country finished runners-up in 1964 before bowing out in the group stage in both 1984 and 2011 editions. On the other hand, Thailand's best result in the continental championship came in 1972 when they finished third. Since then, they have failed to go past the group stage on five occasions, the last being in 2007.
(With inputs from agencies.)