AFC Asian Cup: Stephen Constantine says hardworking, versatile players will be preferred for India's 23-man squad

Mumbai: Indian coach Stephen Constantine on Saturday shed light on his selection policy and hinted that he will prefer picking players with a good "work rate" and ability to comfortably play in one or more positions while selecting the 23-man India squad for the AFC Asian Cup.

The English coach has come under criticism over the selection or non-selection of certain players throughout his second spell as head coach of the Indian national team. On Saturday though, Constantine appeared keen to explain the policy behind his choices.

"I don’t do anything by accident. I can’t afford to. I know many times there have been debates over the players I have selected or dropped, but the most important thing for us is the work rate. 

(Anirudh) Thapa is a prime example. He has been outstanding in his work rate. That’s the kind of players that we need in this Indian national team," the coach told reporters in Mumbai ahead of the team's final in the Intercontinental Cup against Kenya.

File image of India coach Stephen Constantine (L) and captain Sunil Chhetri. AFP

File image of India coach Stephen Constantine (L) and captain Sunil Chhetri. AFP

Further explaining his selections, Constantine also hinted that players feeling comfortable in more positions than one will have an upper hand in terms of making the cut for the AFC Asian Cup squad.

"There are 23 players that we can take. Three are going to be goalkeepers. So then you need players who can play one or two positions. That allows you to have more depth in certain positions," said the former Millwall manager.

"So how many defenders will we take? Probably eight. How many midfield players? Six maybe. So if you have some utility players. For example Anirudh Thapa. He can play on the wide right. I don’t have a problem. If I play him in the middle, I don’t have a problem. So if in the game we need to make a change, knowing that players could play one or more different positions and are comfortable on the ball gives me great confidence," he added.

Constantine also highlighted the faith he has put in the younger lot as a key factor in helping India achieve positive results over the past two years. In the ongoing Intercontinental Cup, the likes of Anirudh Thapa, Halicharan Narzary and Subhasish Bose have grabbed their chance with both hands.

"I believe in youth. It has been my mantra in India and just about everywhere I have been. I feel if they are good enough, they are old enough.

I think in the last three and half years, we have given more than 30 international debuts and 15 of those have proved to be decent players. We have an Under-23 side that I believe is up and coming. I think the future for Indian national team is bright," Constantine stated.

However, he admitted that India have plenty of work to do in terms of reaching a global standard in terms of developing young players. He referred to the New Zealand team that beat India in the last group game of the Intercontinental Cup and stressed on their ability to work the ball around without much fuss.

"We must understand who we are and where we are. The thing with the New Zealand side that you must have noticed is that they were all comfortable with the ball. That’s what they have been taught. This is where we need to improve in India. How are we coaching our players, what are we teaching them and who is monitoring them, what we are giving and coaching them? All that needs to be taken care of," Constantine said.

India who are preparing for the AFC Asian Cup face Kenya in the final of the Intercontinental Cup on Sunday. The Africans who scored a 4-0 win over Chinese Taipei to qualify for the title clash will challenge India's aerial prowess. There were few question marks over the team's ability to deal with aerial deliveries after the game against New Zealand where the All Whites continued to threaten the Indian goal through that route all evening.

Constantine conceded that it is an area where the team is trying to improve and find solutions leading up to the continental championship in UAE in January.

"We are looking for size. We have size in India, but if you don’t look, you don’t select. We have a U-23 side that has height all over the place. That’s not to say that shorter players are not welcome. They all have a place, but you have to put the right player in the right positions. That’s what we have tried to do," the Englishman said.

India's U-23 team is likely to take part in the 2018 Asian Games, however, Constantine revealed that AIFF is yet to receive final confirmation on the issue from either the government or the Indian Olympic Association. It is reported that India will play two international friendlies after the Asian Games in October before heading to UAE for the AFC Asian Cup.

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Updated Date: Jun 09, 2018 17:15:09 IST

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