Mumbai: India’s football head coach Stephen Constantine has stressed that he is aiming at building a “pool of players” who would represent the country at the highest level for the next six to seven years.
Speaking a day prior to India’s international friendly against Puerto Rico here — the first international football match in Mumbai after 61 years, the Briton said he is happy to find the players thirsty for knowledge, to learn and get better.
This is also the first time ever that a team from the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (Concacaf) region will be officially playing in India.
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“We are trying to build a pool of players who would represent India for the next six-seven years. In fact, we already have built a size-able group but there will be additions. Today there is a healthy competition for each of the slots,” Constantine said here on Friday.
Goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu will lead the hosts for the clash.
“Gurpreet Singh Sandhu will captain the team tomorrow (Saturday) against Puerto Rico,” Constantine said.
“One of the biggest plus I have found with the Indian players is their thirst for knowledge. They want to learn and get better. It’s not hard to teach. Indian players and they pick things up quite quickly. But you need to be repetitive,” he added.
Speaking about their opponents, the 53-year-old said, “They are a good side with many good players. Yeah, one may mention about their landing timing in Mumbai but you cannot take away their quality. Can you? Puerto Rico were one of the best movers in the FIFA rankings. They are a very organised side.”
“They love to keep the ball and play it around. They are technically very good. Once they are around the box they are very dangerous. Against USA they split open the rival defence with three touches.”
“We are very motivated to play against a side ranked 114. If you want to go higher it’s important that you play against stronger sides. I would rather lose 4-0 to Iran than win 3-0 against a weaker nation. There will be no change to our approach. We will play the same manner we played against Iran. We will play attacking football,” he added.
Constantine also praised Gurpreet’s attitude of “sticking in Norway.” The 24-year-old plays for Norwegian club Stabæk FC.
“People often say he (Gurpreet) went out to play abroad. But I would say that he stayed out there and continued. And in a country like Norway it’s not easy at all and this guy has been fighting it out for the last three years.”
Gurpreet mentioned that it was quite a “struggle” to settle down.
“It was cold, extremely cold. I had to live alone which I had never done in life. I had to use public transport which perhaps I have hardly done. On top of that I had to cook and train. The initial days were difficult. But I have settled down now,” Gurpreet said.
Puerto Rico are placed at 114 in the FIFA rankings ahead of India’s 152nd position. Constantine is likely to field the team in a 4-2-3-1 combination with Jeje Lalpekhlua leading the hosts’ attack.
Sunil Chhetri, the highest goal scorer for India in international level said the younger crop of players are much “aware of what needs to be done.”
“There are a lot of young ones in the squad. Today’s younger bunch is much aware and professional as to what they need to do,” Sunil said.
Former skipper Chhetri further added that the clubs and the national team setup needs to “be in sync.”
“The manner in which the very minute things are dealt at the national team setup need to be done at the club level too, the nutrition, the food, the rest – everything needs to be in sync. It will be much more beneficial when it happens,” Sunil said.