Stephen Constantine offered contract extension: Here's how India have fared since his re-appointment in 2015
With Constantine now certain to lead India into the 2019 AFC Asian Cup, here's a look at the how the Indian football team has fared under him since his appointment as head coach in 2015.
The AIFF technical committee chaired by Shyam Thapa, unanimously agreed on Tuesday to offer an extension of contract to Indian football coach Stephen Constantine till the end of the AFC Asian Cup 2019 in UAE. The Englishman has been in charge of the Indian team since 2015. Earlier, he has coached India from 2002-2005.
The committee felt that the team had met the dual strategic objectives of the AIFF by qualifying for the AFC Asian Cup 2019 as well as by consistently achieving a top-15 FIFA ranking among Asian countries in the recent past.
India are currently unbeaten since March 2016 under Constantine and had also reached their highest FIFA ranking in the past two decades in July. However, it has not been all rosy for the Englishman under whom the Blue Tigers have had their share of lows as well.
With Constantine now certain to lead India into the AFC Asian Cup next year, here's a look at the how the Indian football team has fared under him since his re-appointment.
World Cup qualifying campaign ends in failure
Constantine's first assignment back as India manager was ensuring the team had a solid World Cup qualifying campaign. No one expected India to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, but the aim was to achieve a respectable finish in the qualifying group to make it easier for the nation to qualify for the AFC Asian Cup.
However, India finished last after a disastrous qualifying campaign, the lowest of which came during the 1-2 loss to Guam. The only win in the campaign came in the reverse fixture against Guam at home when the visitors were reduced to ten men as India limped to a 1-0 victory in Bengaluru. However, heavy losses to Iran and Oman almost led to Constantine losing his job within a year of taking over the post. To sum it up, India's World Cup qualifying campaign was a massive failure.
SAFF Cup success
Amidst the woeful World Cup qualifiers, the SAFF Cup provided the only saving grace for Constantine and his men as they defeated Afghanistan in the final to win the 2015 edition. India showed fight and determination to win the competition, especially in the final against Afghanistan who threatened to topple India as the footballing force in the region.
The biggest positive from that competition was the emergence of younger players who impressed the manager and formed a vital part of Constantine's team in the year that followed.
Had it not been for a victory in that competition, Constantine would have struggled to make a case for continuing in the job.
AFC Asian Cup qualification and rise in FIFA rankings
India went into the AFC Asian Cup pre-qualifier tie against Laos low on confidence. But the Blue Tigers produced a gritty away performance to record a 1-0 win against Laos before smashing six past them in the second leg to reach the main qualifying round.
The twin victories over Laos were followed by a 3-0 win over Bhutan in an international friendly and a morale-boosting triumph over Puerto Rico, ranked almost 30 places above them at the time. Having earned vital rating points with a win over a much stronger opponent, India skipped a FIFA friendly window to acquire the greatest benefit of their win over Puerto Rico and returned to action after a gap of six months. India went into the AFC Asian Cup qualifying campaign with a 3-2 friendly win over Cambodia in an international friendly in March 2017.
In the opening match of the qualifying campaign, a late Sunil Chhetri strike helped India beat Myanmar on their own patch for the first time in over five decades. Later, a 2-0 success over Nepal in a friendly was followed by another hard-earned win over the Kyrgyz Republic in the qualifiers. The win not only lifted India to the top of their group, but also helped them reach a two-decade high FIFA ranking of 96 in July 2017.
India won the tri-nation trophy featuring Mauritius and St Kitts and Nevis in August and went unbeaten last year after twin victories over Macau and a draw against Myanmar in the qualifiers. The successful streak helped India seal a spot in the 2019 continental championship after a gap of eight years.
The Blue Tigers are currently on a 13-game unbeaten run and sit in the 102nd spot in the FIFA rankings. In 2018, Constantine and Co will be expected to face sterner tests as they step up preparations for the AFC Asian Cup 2019.
The opening match will take place at Eden Park in Auckland, with Sydney's Stadium Australia hosting the final. The two semi-final matches will be split between Australia and New Zealand.
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The AIFF said it will take a decision on the fate of the tournament at a later date. Earlier, the AIFF had said that the tournament would have to be held in May at the latest.