National team coach Stephen Constantine believes Indian football has “not achieved anything yet” but the quantum leap in FIFA rankings has intensified the team’s quest to qualify for Asian Cup 2019 and break into the top 100.
In the latest world rankings issued by FIFA, the country was placed 101, a significant achievement in the context of Indian football.
The Briton, though, is not reading too much into the recent growth story.
“We need to stay focused and make sure we understand we have not achieved anything yet. I would rather be 101 in the FIFA rankings and qualify for the Asian Cup UAE 2019 than be 95 and not be there,” Constantine told PTI.
The 54-year-old, in his second stint with the Indian team, optimistically added, “If we do our job and work hard we will, I am sure, achieve both of those goals.”
In March 2015, India’s position had slipped to 173 out of 209 countries, its worst ever ranking, and they improved to 135 the following year.
Constantine warned his players to keep their feet firmly on the ground.
“It’s been a difficult road. We had last qualified for the World Cup Qualifiers long back and we were struggling on all fronts. Of course you can’t change things overnight but we will continue to try and improve and get better,” he said.
“Bringing in new blood and creating competition for places in the team has been a process, and I’m pleased we are moving in the right direction.”
He complimented his wards for their performance last year, which has seen them win 11 out of 13 matches, and made special mention of the support staff’s contributions.
“I think one of the major points which is often overlooked is the competence of the backroom staff and the use of the GPS system,” said Constantine.
The All India Football Federation (AIFF) too came in for praise for paying heed to his requirements.
“I have to thank both Mr. Praful Patel and Mr. Kushal Das for allowing me to bring in the people whom I know and trust to do the job for us. Their faith and trust in me has allowed me to do what I need to do. “Contributions from Danny (Danny Deigan), Ramos (Rogerio Ramos), Venky (Shanmugam Venkatesh) and all the backroom staff have been immense,” said Constantine who began his second stint in February 2015.
“Of course, it is the players who have to deliver on the field and all of them have contributed in their own way which is why we are where we are.”
Asked about the highs and lows during his tenure with the national team, Constantine said he does not want to dwell on those things.
“I don’t dwell too much on either as things change so quickly. For me it is always about what comes next and right now, I am looking to the next game.”
Constantine, who was India coach in a previous three-year stint from 2002, took Rwanda to their highest FIFA ranking of 68 in his time as coach there before returning to India.