Intercontinental Cup: India coach Stephen Constantine praises Sunil Chhetri, says team has real chance at 2019 AFC Asian Cup

Mumbai: The Indian football team showed a lot of character and resilience in its title-winning Intercontinental Cup campaign and this attitude will be crucial in ensuring that the country doesn't just make up the numbers in next year's AFC Asian Cup, feels national coach Stephen Constantine.

"We know we have a huge task going to the Asian Cup. (We are) not going to make up the numbers, we believe that if we do the right things between now and then that we have a chance to qualify from the group and that will be our target," Constantine said after India beat Kenya 2-0 in the final on Monday.

The Asian Cup will be played in the UAE next January, in which India are clubbed with the host nation, Bahrain and Thailand.

"This tournament gave us the opportunity to prepare as we would prepare in the Asian Cup. (If) we make it to the last 16 of the Asia Cup, these are the kind of games that we expect. The character and resilience of the team is what impressed me the most (in the final)," he added. Lavishing praise on talismanic skipper Sunil Chhetri, who scored both of India's goals last night, and goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Constantine said the two players hardly ever need to be told what the situation demands of them.

"Sunil and Gurpreet (Singh Sandhu) are two (members) of the squad, they will tell you themselves, they can tell what they do. Sunil is unbelievably fit, looks after himself, completely professional on and off the pitch, and that is why he is able to maintain the level of fitness that he has," Constantine explained.

Intercontinental Cup: India coach Stephen Constantine praises Sunil Chhetri, says team has real chance at 2019 AFC Asian Cup

Sunil Chhetri scored a brace in the final to bring his international goal tally up to 64. AP

Throwing some light on Chhetri's level of dedication, Constantine said the tournament's highest goal-scorer is dismissive of any suggestion of taking rest. Chhetri achieved a massive career milestone with last night's brace as he equalled Argentine superstar Lionel Messi's tally of international goals.

"It is not easy, but he is looking after himself and as long as he is able to do that, he is able to do the work. We need him in the Asian Cup. I can't protect him from club football, but I didn't want to play him in the third game. But he starts mourning, so ok (I played him)," Constantine said.

Reflecting on last night's performance, Constantine said the Kenyans had the upper hand in the second half. "(In the) second half Kenya put a lot of pressure on us, I really appreciate the work that the boys did and in the end, we deserved this (the title). This is our success, just not me and the boys, but everybody," Constantine said. When asked which part of the victory was more special, the Englishman quipped, "2-0."

"The work rate was phenomenal specially, in the second half when we were tired and the Kenyans showed how tough they are because they played two days ago and were still able to put pressure on us," he noted.

The coach revealed that there will "definitely be two warm-up games before the Asian Cup, sometime in December. We will be looking to play 28-29 December, about a week before our first game (in the AFC Asian Cup on 6 January). I can't tell you the opponents but I am working on it."

"November we are close with an away game in Saudi (Arabia), but again this is not a 100 percent, but it is close. October we have one or two possibilities. September there is the SAFF tournament. And in a month's time, we start the preparation for the Asian Games and thank you to the Olympic Committee for allowing us to go. We need those games and exposure," he said.

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Updated Date: Jun 11, 2018 13:00:56 IST

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