Stephen Constantine rues lack of preparation for SAFF Championship

Thiruvananthapuram: India head coach Stephen Constantine here on Tuesday rued the paucity of adequate training time to prepare for the coming South Asian Football Federation Championship (SAFF).

Stephen Constantine. Pic/AFP
Stephen Constantine. Pic/AFP

Constantine summoned a preparatory camp from December 10 consisting largely of fringe players as the frontliners were busy playing in the Indian Super League (ISL).

His preparations were further hampered by injuries to several key players that reduced the strength of the camp to mere 14. The British coach was forced to release Sandesh Jhingan, Cavin Lobo and Seityasen Singh from the Kochi-based camp.

They were not the only absentees as three non-ISL players -- Daniel Lalhimpuia, Udanta Singh and Alwyn George -- also skipped the camp for unexplained reasons.

To make matters worse, FC Goa duo of Romeo Fernandes and Mandhar Rao Desai, who were involved in the ISL final defeat against Chennaiyin FC, didn't show up for the camp within the stipulated time, which was Monday.

"We were expecting them in the camp but they didn't turn up," Constantine said in an AIFF statement.

"Though we had called for players in the camp earlier in an effort to prepare better for the tournament, the strength in the camp wasn't enough to prepare. At a time we were reduced to just 14 players and there was no way we could conduct our practice properly.

"It's always nice to play in your own country. But the irony is that we haven't been able to have 11 vs 11 games prior to this morning despite having summoned a preparatory Camp since December 10," he added.

The 11th edition of the regional tournament kicks off here on Wednesday with Nepal taking on Sri Lanka. The tournament has been reduced to a seven-nation affair with the late withdrawal of Pakistan.

India, Nepal, Sri Lanka are in Group A, while Afghanistan, Maldives, Bhutan and Bangladesh are in Group B. India play their first match against Sri Lanka on December 25.

Constantine oversaw a practice session of the team here on Tuesday morning and said only one tune-up spell was hardly a fair indicator of the condition of the players.

"It's hard to judge players from just one session," the 53-year old observed.

"If you look at the squad, we have a couple (K. Zain and Arjun Tudu) from the Army and another player (Kaushik Sarkar) from SAI, Kolkata," he informed at a media interaction.

Constantine, however, has accepted the far from ideal conditions for preparation for the six-time SAFF champions but is looking to mould the young players towards a bright future.

India were knocked out of the 2018 World Cup qualifying tournament after losing five of the six matches in their group.

"Our squad is about the younger players. I am trying to build a team for the future," he said.

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