Printer Friendly and PDF

Bangalore: Coach Stephen Constantine hailed his 2019 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers as “one of the best Indian teams in history” but insists securing top spot in Group A remains to be achieved following Wednesday’s 4-1 win over Macau.

Rowllin Borges, captain Sunil Chhetri, an own goal from Macau’s Lam Ka-seng and a late strike from Jeje Lalpekhlua saw India maintain a 100 percent record after four games.

And with the Kyrgyz Republic and Myanmar sharing a 2-2 draw on Tuesday, India are guaranteed a top two finish in Group A to secure a return to the AFC Asian Cup for the first time since 2011 and only the fourth time in their history.

“We have achieved our target, but the job is far from being done as we want to finish first in the group,” said English coach Constantine.

“We can’t afford to sit and celebrate for long. We have to get back to business pretty soon as we’re playing Myanmar shortly. This is a terrific team effort over anything else.

“If not the best, this Indian team is surely one of the best Indian teams in history and the credit goes to all.

“Starting from the players to the supporting stuff, it’s the result of everyone’s dedication and hard work.”

Constantine returned to the India helm in January 2015 after the departure of Wim Koevermans who was unable to help the side reach the AFC Asian Cup in Australia, and a year later won the 2016 SAFF Championship title after beating Afghanistan in the final.

“We achieved our goal to qualify for Asian Cup and I’m immensely proud of my team. They have followed my manners, my demands,” added Constantine.

“They’ve gone through anything and everything like the tough training regime, rigorous pressure and at the end of the day, they have delivered.”

India can secure top spot in Group A with a draw at home to Myanmar in November, with the second qualification spot still up for grabs by all three remaining teams.

“It's a great feeling to qualify for the Asian Cup. I am very happy with the way the boys performed. In the second half, we spoke about bouncing back,” said India captain Chhetri.

“It felt so bad when we missed the qualification last time around. You don't get to play the best teams in Asia quite often so it's a great chance now. We are India, we will put our head down and work even harder.”

India have not lost since losing back-to-back 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers to Iran and Turkmenistan in March 2016, winning 11 of 12 games.

“Qualifying is a great result. I am now lost for words,” said defender Sandesh Jhingan.

“People wrote us off three years ago, but look where we are now. But we have to keep going, keep fighting. The future looks bright.”

The defeat was Macau’s fourth in as many games despite Niki Torrao (picture above, centre) equalising for the visitors at Sree Kanteerava Stadium eight minutes before half-time.

The goal was Macau’s first in the final round of qualifiers and the first conceded by India in Group A.

“India really were better than us on the day, but I have no qualms because my boys put in their best effort but we were beaten on the day,” said coach Chan Hiu-ming, with Macau needing to beat the Kyrgyz Republic in November while hoping Myanmar lose to India to remain in the qualification picture ahead of their final game in March 2018 in Myanmar.

“We will give our best and begin preparing for the final games.

“I think we were pretty competitive in the first half and we had a chance after we equalised, but we failed to capitalise.”

Photos: AFC, AFP