CHENNAI: When Stephen Constantine announced the 31 probables from which he’ll select his India team for the AFC Cup qualifiers, there was a lot of buzz about a few names.
Jerry Lalrinzuala, Nishu Kumar and Milan Singh, some of the country’s finest youngsters are finally making the jump to the national team. But an analysis of the rest of the list reveals something more significant — India’s transition from Wim Koevermans to Constantine is finally complete!
When he first arrived for a second stint in charge of the national team in early 2015, Constantine had stated that his aim was to create a pool of players that will serve the country for the better part of the next decade. A look at the current list of probables and his last few starting eleven indicates that task is complete.
Of the 13 players (11 + 2 substitutes) who played an active role in Koevermans’ last game in charge against Palestine, only four find a place in the list of 31.
Of the four Sunil Chhetri and Arnab Mondal are the only ones assured of a place in the final squad. Subrata Paul has been largely peripheral since the emergence of Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, while Robin Singh, impressive as he has been in recent weeks, has been supplanted in the national team by Jeje Lalphekhlua since his injury layoff.
Even more cause for optimism is the average age of the current lot — just over 24 years. The number of youngsters who owe their international careers to Constantine is staggering. Gurpreet, Sandesh Jhingan, Dhanpal Ganesh, Jackichand Singh and Eugeneson Lyngdoh are just some of the numerous names who’ve made their debuts under him.
“We have recruited players on basis of their consistent performances both from the I-League and Indian Super League,” Constantine said.
“The door is open for anyone who is eligible to play for India. But for that, he must be prepared to do the work we need. We have selected players from what we have seen over the last few months.”
Former Indian captain Bhaichung Bhutia is of the opinion that this augurs well for Indian football. “The pool has got bigger and a lot of new players have been coming in and doing well. And I think you will see a lot more players coming in as well,” he told Express.
The team will assemble in Mumbai on March 12, subject to their I-League and AFC Cup commitments, as the weather, there is similar to that in Yangon, where the team will face Myanmar in their AFC Cup opener on March 28. Before that, the team will face Cambodia on March 22.