New FIFA rule better, but don't see it as a great advantage: Stephen Constantine

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Kolkata, Sep 1: With world football governing body FIFA tweaking its rules to allow national teams the services of players for an entire week before an international friendly, Indian coach Stephen Constantine now has more time to prepare his players afor the September 3 game against Puerto Rico. However, the Anglo-Cypriot is not entirely satisfied.

Paucity of camp time with national team players has more often than not stymied Constantine's preparations.

Stephen Constantine (right) with Indian captain Sunil Chhetri

But the amended rule is a sharp departure from the previous FIFA norm where clubs had the right to release players only 48 hours before an international friendly.

Constantine acknowledges that the new rule provides him a better opportunity to tune up his players for the battle against higher ranked Puerto Rico in Mumbai in the lead up to the 2019 Asian Cup qualifiers. But he doesn't see it as a "great advantage".

"If you look at the game which is slated for September 3, the players reported on the 28th. But it's not the date but the time of reporting which matters. If they are arriving say in the afternoon or in the evening, they are not training the next day.

"So in that regard, you lose a day. So I don't see this as a great advantage. But yeah, it's better than it used to be," Constantine, who recently won the SAFF Championship with the national team, told IANS in an e-mail interview.

Constantine, however, pointed out that Asian teams need longer time to prepare.

"Teams in Asia and Africa need longer to prepare than teams in Europe and South America," Constantine said.

Puerto Rico, ranked 114th, were the best movers in the July FIFA rankings. Asked whether this would be a litmus test for the boys who are coming off a 3-0 victory over lowly Bhutan in a practice game, Constantine said: "They (Puerto Rico) remind me of Guam. Most of their players play outside in leagues in Europe and the US.

"They are well organised and boast of some very good footballers. It will be a very difficult game for us."

India belittled Laos to romp into the third qualification round of the Asian Cup, the draw of which is expected to take place late October. It won't be smooth sailing for the Blue Tigers as the likes of Bahrain, Jordan, Lebanon, North Korea are also in the fray and currently way ahead of India.

"We are going into the last stages of the 2019 AFC Asian Cup UAE Qualifiers and would be playing at least two teams which are better and much higher ranked than us," the coach said when asked whether the reason to play a higher-ranked opposition was taken with the Asian Cup qualifiers in mind.

"We need to play against similar ranked teams even though there is always the danger of losing. So playing Puerto Rico will help us to gauge ourselves besides improving," he said.

Over 30 players have made their debut under Constantine's watch. Asked how that has helped, he said: "I felt that most of the Indian national team players had taken their place for guaranteed in the squad.

"Maybe people didn't want to take out their time to go and look for other talent. Having worked here before and knowing quite many, it was the main reason for me to set up the scouting network."

Constantine guided the Indian national team from 2002 to 2005. He returned as coach in January last year.

Constantine said players have been selected from academies, universities, the military, from the second division. Even players who have no clubs have made the cut.

"This is only possible when you know what you are looking for, and when the scouts know what the coach wants."

IANS

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