Stephen Constantine backs 'massive underdogs' India to be competitive at Asian Cup
The Indian side are in Group A alongside tournament hosts UAE, Bahrain and Thailand
Stephen Constantine believes India can spring a surprise at the Asian Cup in the UAE and insists they are not there to make up the numbers.
India are appearing at the continental championship for only the second time in the past 35 years and the side's manager Constantine has set his sights on steering the country to the knockout phase for the first time in their history.
“We are massive underdogs and not many people have dreamt that we would qualify for this championship,” said the Englishman. “We have done it in style, so now we are going there to show everyone in Asia that we deserve to be here.
“We earned the right and we are going to give everything we have, every minute of every game as we have done since the day I arrived. We are going to try and qualify from the group, we are not going there to make up the numbers.”
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India’s limited track record in the competition means progress to the last 16 would represent a significant success.
They begin their challenge against Thailand on Sunday, but it is the match with the UAE on January 10 that has Constantine most concerned.
“It’s always difficult,” said the 56 year old of being up against the UAE. “You never want to get drawn with the hosts, but we have and that’s that.
"We will go into the game as underdogs, as will be the case in all our games and that’s fine. They are a good side and at home, the pressure is on them."
Constantine does believe his side are more than capable of reaching the knockout stages of the competition.
“I feel we can be one of the teams that qualify and all of the games are going to be key ones," he adds.
"There are no easy games or must wins, we will try and win every game we are in and, after three games, hopefully we have enough points to get us out of the group to the next round.”
One advantage India may have over other nations is the potential to have strong support at games.
There is a large expatriate Indian population in the UAE, and Constantine is hopeful many of them will cheer their compatriots on in person.
“Our fans have been right behind us home and away and with the Indian population in the Emirates we will, surely, be well supported,” he said. “We really want the fans to come and get behind the players and it’s going to be a great atmosphere undoubtedly.
“It’s huge for Indians, for me and for all the players. It’s not every day you get to play in the continent’s biggest football championship and we are looking forward to it."
Updated: January 3, 2019 09:20 AM