Afghans favourites for SAFF Cup final: India coach Constantine

Thiruvananthapuram, Jan 2 (IANS) India coach Stephen Constantine feels that Afghanistan will be the favourites when the teams meet in the SAFF Championship final here on Sunday.

Afghanistan have been one of the most impressive teams in the tournament, thrashing Sri Lanka 5-0 in the semifinal. A amojor reason for their high standards is the fact that of the 20 players in the Afghan squad, 15 ply their trade in foreign countries, mostly in Denmark, Germany, US, Bahrain and Malaysia.

Pointing this put at the pre-match press conference here on Saturday, Constantine opined that the hosts will have to be at their best in Sunday’s showdown.

“Afghanistan are the favourites because they have 15 players who play mostly in Europe. There is a huge gap between Asian and European players,” the India coach said.

“In fact, after the match against Guam almost all had raised eyebrows saying how we lose to a Country who has a population of 90000 people. But what all didn’t realize that it was a Team comprising of US-based Players.

“But we will be playing at Home and I hope the fans cheer behind us and we can use it as an advantage,” Constantine added.

The British coach also warned that the Indian defenders will have to be at the top of their game in order to keep the in-form Afghan strikers at bay.

“It’s hard to predict as to which area the match would be decided. It will be decided on all parts of the field. It is going to be a very difficult game. They are a Team who can score goals and we need to be careful,” he analysed.

Referring to India losing the momentum, in the second half of their semi-final against Maldives, Constantine said,”In football, when you are in control of the game, you tend to become a bit sloppy. That’s what happened in the semi-final. And if that happens in the Final, we will have to pay the price.”

“Obviously with such a young squad and with such little time to prepare in the championship, it feels nice to be in the Final. We took each game as it came. I want the players in the team to feel competition from who are not in the squad. We now have a group of Players who fight and compete for positions,” he added.

Talking about India’schances in the fonal, the coach said, “They are a very good side. We will fight form the first to the last minute. If we play at our best and they don’t have a good day, we can win.”

“Afghanistan is certainly a good side, but they are not unbeatable. We cannot afford to make silly mistakes like we did in the semi-final.”

With striker Robin Singh ruled out of the final with an injury, India captain Sunil Chhetri will have to play a key role for the hosts upfront. But Constantine asserted that the entire team will have to pull toether as one unit in order to lift the trophy.

“Sunil (Chhetri) is an important Player as is Pritam Kotal, Narayan Das, Arnab Mondal, Augistine Fernandes and all the others including the substitutes. One is useless without the other. If Sunil plays well and others don’t, he won’t get much of the ball. Sunil is a great captain and leader but I never focus on one player,” he said.

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