By Samindra Kunti in Abu Dhabi
January 6 – India enjoyed a dream start in the 2019 Asian Cup as the Blue Tigers outclassed Thailand in a 4-1 victory in their opening game, but a down-to-earth head coach Stephen Constantine refused to get carried away and called the landmark win just “another result”.
Earlier on Sunday Jordan had defeated the defending champions Australia 1-0, but India’s first Asian Cup win since 1964 was arguably as impressive as they outwitted Thailand with mobility, aggression and pace that hitherto has been a rarity for any Indian outfit. Constantine had been a coach under pressure before the Thailand game, but with India’s stellar game those doubts will have been cast aside.
“I thought the boys fought for the entire 93 minutes,” said Constantine. “I am happy to get our first win in the Asian Cup after so many years. We took the lead. It was quite an evenly matched first half. We had some small adjustments at half-time. I think the problem we had was that we were giving the ball away too much. We tried to look after the ball in the second half, I think we did. It helped when we got that early goal and Thailand were on the back foot after that.”
“Did I expect us to win by three or four goals, no,” said Constantine. “You don’t go into a game thinking you will win 4-1 or 5-1. You play well, you create chances and you score goals. We created chances in the last three or four games and we didn’t score and today we converted and I am obviously delighted with that.
“If I say it is just another result, will that be a cliche?” asked Constantine. “Because it is. We are in the finals and that is a big deal in itself. We have won one game. Two more games left.”
The Indian boss sprung a surprise by including Ashique Kuruniyan in the first eleven, but Constantine was rewarded for his choice as the FC Pune City winger excelled, proving a constant menace for the Thai defence. Kuruniyan was a vital piece in the jigsaw with his tenacity and support play. Together with the pace of Udanta Singh on the other wing, India’s dynamism and zeal proved too much for Thailand, who were bamboozled by India’s overt attacking intentions.
“Ashique is very raw, young and strong,” explained Constantine. “He is fit but he needs to do a lot of things to be the complete player. We wanted a bit of space, bit of physicality. He is a bit quicker than Jeje (Lalpekhlua) and Balwant (Singh) and that was the thought process – to try and stretch and make it difficult for them. And he did not stop running, so fair play to him.”
Kuruniyan may be a relatively new face in the Indian team, but the all-round endeavour and output from the Indian team are the result of four years of progressive work, according to Constantine.
In recent months India held both China and Oman to draws, but Sunday’s 90 minutes of magic were the confirmation that the Blue Tigers have progressed in earnest. For decades India has not been a part of the Asian elite, but by beating Thailand 4-1 they have shown their potential.
“I don’t think my team became world class in the last three months,” highlighted Constantine. “We are working on this since the last four years. The result in China was a good result. We are happy with the win but this didn’t happen in the last three months but in the last four years.”
Contact the writer of this story, Samindra Kunti, at moc.l1635376807labto1635376807ofdlr1635376807owedi1635376807sni@o1635376807fni1635376807