BENGALURU: National Coach Stephen Constantine starts from almost where he had left. His last match as Indian National Team Coach in the World Cup Qualifiers in 2004 was against Oman, that too an away match.
Look back at the history of the two Teams and you will discover that India have never beaten Oman. Never! And Constantine’s last match during his first stint as Indian Coach was a goalless draw in Muscat. Inspirational indeed!
You take him back to that match and he smiles.
“There were quite many Indians who had turned up for that match. I remember Ali Al-Habsi was a promising talent at that time and had he not pulled off two spectacular saves late in the match which some other Goalkeeper may not have been able to…,” Constantine doesn’t finish it, smiles and shrugs.
Eleven years later, Ali Al-Habsi is still there, this time at the Garden City as the Captain of the Oman National squad as the two Teams gear up for the Russia 2018 World Cup Preliminary Joint Qualification match in Bengaluru on Thursday(June 11, 2015).
“This match against Oman will be a completely different game, an entirely different level. We will be without the ball for long periods of the game. The boys would be under pressure from the very first minute by a very good Oman Team,” he maintains.
“Oman have always been a very good side and I have always have a lot of respect for them. They are not the biggest Nation in the World but the developmental process which has been on in the Country speaks for itself.”
“So we wanted to put the boys under pressure and planned the ‘Team building exercise’ organised by the Indian Army at ASC Bengaluru. It’s important for them to suffer as a Team in the nicest possible way to see how they react,” he adds.
You glance through the squad of 26 and find out that 8 among them are attending the National Team Camp for the first time. You are tempted to ask what it is all about, especially after there were 11 for the Camp against Nepal.
“I don’t select players on reputation. When I go to watch games I don’t care where they come from, who they are, how old they are. As long as they hold an Indian Passport and if they do what I need them to do, I pick them,” he echoes.
“I think in these Competitions, every Team aims to win all their home games and try to steal something away from the Away matches.
The new match has a new Captain and Arnab Mondal has been chosen to lead India against Oman and Guam.
“It’s a rare honour for me and I want to thank Coach for giving me this honour. But this doesn’t change anything. Everyone is a
Captain in their own right – right from the Coach to the other Players, the support staff. It’s not about an individual. It’s about the Team,” he told.
After some bright sunny days in Bengaluru, the Sun prefers to play hide and seek from Wednesday morning. Even as the weather forecast predicts thundershowers, the Coach isn’t too much interested.
“It’s same for both the Teams. It just makes the conditions different.”
The general perception surrounding the Team has been positive. It’s a new set of boys which many foresee as the ‘birth of the next generation.’ The rebuilding process has just started.
The kick-off at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium on Thursday (June 11) is at 7pm.
– Nilanjan Datta,
AIFF Media Team