Players’ fitness before Iran match a concern: India football coach

New Delhi, March 20 (IANS) Indian football coach Stephen Constantine on Sunday expressed concern over the fitness of his players ahead of the 2018 World Cup qualification Round 2 match against a much higher-ranked Iran.

Iran are ranked 44th in the global rankings, 116 places above India at 160. India are at the bottom of the five-team Group D, having lost five of their six matches so far. Iran are at the top with four wins off six games.

“Playing in Iran will get as difficult as it can get. They have a history of playing in the World Cup and are the giants of Asia, presently placed at 44. It’s like David versus Goliath on the field,” Constantine said in an All India Football Federation (AIFF) release.

Constantine also said that he is worried about the fitness of some of his players.

“We have conducted some tests and the fitness levels are not very encouraging. All I can say that players need to be in better condition than they are, you need to sweat and run,” he said.

The Indian squad leaves for Tehran on Monday morning. After Iran, India are scheduled to play Turkmenistan in Kochi on March 29.

“We will face a lot of difficulties against Iran. The concern also stays to stay away from injuries and yellow cards as we play Turkmenistan at home on 29th and aim to make the most of it. I may have to juggle a few things around,” said the Englishman.

Constantine added he has been able to achieve whatever targets he has set for India when he came back for a second stint as the national coach.

“My first target was to take the team to the World Cup Qualifiers which we achieved. The next target was to retain the SAFF Championship and we came out triumphant. The next goal is to be there at the final qualifiers for the 2019 Asian Cup and I want to achieve it too.”

The coach also spoke of handing debuts to 22 players and said his aim is to leave behind a legacy before he leaves.

“In the process we have handed international debuts to 22 players in 10 months. I have also been able to bring the average age of the team from around 32 to 24. My aim is to develop Indian players and leave a legacy behind when I leave.”

In the city where the team assembled prior to departing to Iran, Constantine has had six practice sessions in four days.

“During my tenure the best players in the I-League have been players who have come from the national team. There were players who were overlooked for various reasons – look at Eugene, Rowlin, Lobo, Sandesh, Ganesh, Kotal, Sehnaj, Holi, Pronoy, Gurpreet and you will understand it. They will only get better with experience and time,” he said.

“When I came in, the easier option would have been to continue with the tried and tested. But I chose the other path to have new blood inducted in the squad which was harder. Simply because I want to leave India in a better position than what I had when I came in.”

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