Stephen Constantine says India 'very close' to finalising friendly away game against Saudi Arabia in November

Mumbai: Indian football head coach Stephen Constantine on Sunday revealed that India is "very close" to finalising a friendly away game against Saudi Arabia in November as a part of the preparations for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup. The Englishman also confirmed that India will play two matches during the final camp before the continental championship in the United Arab Emirates.

"In November we are very close to finalising an away game in Saudi Arabia, again this is not a hundred percent, but very close. October we have one or two possibilities. In September, we have the SAFF Cup where we have to participate," Constantine divulged during the post-match press conference after India's win over Kenya in the Intercontinental Cup final.

The 55-year-old coach also confirmed the U-23 team's participation in the 2018 Asian Games, and thanked the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) for affording them the opportunity.

Indian head coach Stephen Constantine (L) and captain SUnil Chhetri (R). AP

Indian head coach Stephen Constantine (L) and captain Sunil Chhetri (R). AP

"In a month’s time from now, we start preparing for the Asian Games. I would like to thank the Olympic Committee for allowing us to go because I think it’s huge for the development for some of these boys that are there in this camp. We need those games, we need that exposure and I’m glad that they are allowing us to go," he added.

Constantine suggested that he would like to have the players available to him for the final camp before the AFC Asian Cup by 10 December so that he gets ample time with the group to prepare for the big event. The coach also confirmed that India will be planning to play two matches during the camp, the final one of which would come a week before India's opening game in UAE.

"There definitely will be two games in the camp before Asian Cup so that would be sometime in December. Our first game is on 6 January and we will be looking to play about a week before our first game. That is going to happen. I can’t tell you the opponent at the moment but I’m working on it," Constantine said.

On being asked if India were going to play enough games to be ready for the Asian Cup, Constantine felt players' involvement with their respective clubs will be the right way to prepare for the competition.

"We don’t have too many choices. The league has to be played. I am not for a six-month camp, training and playing meaningless games. The players will be better of at their clubs training hard and having those competitive games in the league," the Englishman said.

Sunil Chhetri who was adjudged the Best Player of the Intercontinental Cup, having netted 8 times in the competition, said that every player in the team will approach the coming months with the AFC Asian Cup in minds.

"Everyone wanted to win this tournament but the vision is about the Asia Cup. Everything we do is about the Asia Cup. We will try our best not only with the national team but also when we go back to the clubs. But everyone has a vision. Of course, you want to do well with the clubs, but Asia Cup is the main thing," Chhetri said after the final.

"When I played in it in 2011, I know how important it is, how big it is and I’m just trying to tell the boys in whichever way possible how big it is, so that when we come back from there, we shouldn’t have a feeling that we could have done a bit better. The feeling should be that we gave each and everything that we possibly could and we start doing that from now," he added.

The senior national team's next assignment will come in September in the form of the SAFF Cup. The Blue Tigers will be hoping to defend the title they won in 2015 when the tournament takes place in Bangladesh in September.

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Updated Date: Jun 11, 2018 07:57:43 IST

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