Intercontinental Cup 2018: 'If I needed to take a point, we would have; but with a different side,' claims Stephen Constantine
Stephen Constantine put up a brave face after a disappointing loss to a young All Whites sides and blamed the loss on individual errors. But in a stunning fashion, he claimed that if he would have wanted to take a point, he could have; but with a ‘different side’.
India started with seven changes to that of the starting XI of the previous two matches. The Indian gaffer, however, defended the decision and said that this is all a preparation for the Asian Cup and a learning curve for his side.
Constantine also lamented the defending slip-ups saying, “When you win two games, you maybe get carried away. New Zealand were a young and disciplined side. We made mistakes but didn't start as we do. Individual errors cost us today. But it's not the end of the world. We knew we were more or less in the final unless we lost 4-0 or 5-0, which wasn't going to happen. The job was done after the two matches".
When asked about the massive shake-up to the starting XI, compared to that of the last two matches, he said, “It (the changes) was always going to happen. We are using this tournament and the games before the AFC Asian Cup to prepare for the Asian Cup. You can’t rely on 11 players to play from now until the end of January, next year. We have always got to change the team. Obviously it was not the result that we would’ve wanted but it was important that some of the younger players got an opportunity to play."
22-year-old Salam Ranjan Singh debuted as the centre-back and the young, agile Ashique Kuruniyan was operating through the left flank. However Rowlin Borges, Mohd. Rafique and Narayan Das were the other players coming in; who cannot be really termed as young, and not obviously who needed an opportunity to play. Indian Football fans have become quite used to seeing them in national colours for the last couple of years and so.
Thus it brings a great debate on to the table regarding which all players are in Constantine’s scheme of AFC Asian Cup starting XI; as Anirudh Thapa and Pronoy Halder have emerged as the clear favourites in the midfield over some of the more experienced players in the squad.
The Englishman gave a hint on this regard when he said, "Jeje was never going to play after we won the first two games. Neither was Jhingan or Anas or Holi (Narzary) going to play. I also didn’t want to play Sunil. They did their job and we got six points from first two games. It was time for some others to come forward and stake a claim for their place. Some did, some didn’t."
Mohd. Rafique who came in the place of Udanta Singh, looked woefully out of place until he was put out of his misery before the half an hour mark. Constantine went on to admit that the East Bengal midfielder was definitely ‘struggling’ and not due to any sort of injury.
Constantine, then, went on to state a bold statement which sounded astonishing, as he said, “Looking forward we would have to think about how to fix the problems we faced today. But the job was already done (win the first two games). If I needed to take a point from this game today, trust me, we would have taken the point. I would have gone with a completely different side.” This statement sparks the question.
What is this 'different' side?
This match was a great indication of what the Englishman’s version of “different side” could be, in the near future. It’s clear from his statements that Anas Edathodika, who had a rather indifferent season, Sandesh Jhingan, Jeje Lalpekhlua, Halicharan Narzary, Udanta Singh and of course, Sunil Chhetri will be the core of his side till the AFC Asian Cup.
While Rowlin Borges and Narayan Das have donned the national jersey quite a lot in the past three years, they might find themselves out of favour for quite a few time. Bose has been quite quick and sturdy in the defence except for the second goal against New Zealand and the idea to play him as a central defender validates the argument, that Subhasish Bose can be a part of Constantine’s plan, for a very long time.
Anirudh Thapa, however, has emerged as an immediate replacement to Eugeneson Lyngdoh in the midfield and this youngster was a live wire in all of the matches he has featured till now. The fact, that he is showing his potential at the age of 20 to that of Lyngdoh’s in the age of 28 years when the latter debuted for India, can be an exciting fact for the Indian fans. Thapa still has to keep up the work rate and remain consistent.
Pronoy Halder is another player who has been quite a revelation in this Intercontinental Cup. He has been a commanding presence in the defensive midfield ever since he made the National team comeback. A few days ago Constantine had said that Halder “never left the camp” and it was injury, that kept him away from national duty. The physically strong Halder, has been a perfect defensive midfielder till now and with occasional long-range-audacious attempts in his pockets, he might have gained an edge over the experienced Rowlin Borges.
Rafique was called for a lot of flak after getting a place in the squad although he did not enjoy any kind of steller run in the season. After a series of poor displays, he might get it difficult to prove his point now.
Ashique Kuruniyan can rue his chance as he clearly had the pace on his side but still has a lot to go in the aspect of winning the duels and delivering crosses. Halicharan Narzary can heave a sigh of relief, that his place can be safe for the time being as he fits into Constantine's scheme of act which involves the winger to track back to help the side-backs.
It will all be clear on Sunday, when India, hopefully in the final, starts against Harambee Stars or All Whites -- as on what the “different side” that Indian fans are going to see in the upcoming year, because India would not play for “a point” then; but for a title against a nation of other another continent.