India vs Iran World Cup Qualifier: Sunil Chhetri’s absence is a big loss, says Constantine

Stephen Constantine feels the self belief was exemplary as India won the LG Cup in 2002TEHRAN: Despite our golden days, history book points out that India last beat Iran some 57 years ago in 1959, that too across all age groups. Even as the Indian squad landed in Tehran minus their “influential Captain,” and two other key Players, National Coach Stephen Constantine feels it’s time for the “other boys to make their presence felt.”

In a freewheeling interview with, Constantine speaks at length about his thoughts on Iran, the absence of his three key Players, juggling things around, the bulging list of 22 debutants and draws the fine line between being a gambler and a strategist. EXCERPTS:

How much of a setback is it to miss Sunil Chhetri in such a match?

Its huge setback! He has been talisman for the National Team for the last 5-6 Years. Obviously it’s a big loss for us as it would be a loss for any Team to miss a Player like him.

Add to it that the fact that 2015 AIFF Player of the Year Eugenson Lyngdoh and Robin Sigh are also not here would it off the mark to comment that India will be fielding a depleted squad?

You also need to add Dhanpal Ganesh to that list – he had suffered a similar injury like Robin when we last played Iran in Bengaluru in September 2015. Obviously when four of your Starting members miss such a match, that too in key positions, it rubs salt. It’s problematic.

But at the same time, it gives the opportunity for the others to step up and make an impression. This is what we have and we have to live with the situation.

You did make a mention that you may have to juggle things around. What did you mean by that?

We have four Players who are carrying yellow cards. So if any of them picks up another Yellow against Iran, they won’t be available for our next Home match against Turkmenistan on March 29. The dilemma stays – do I play all of them? Or do I play some, and rest the others? Or do I rest all? That’s a decision which I need to take. And that’s a serious headache.

22 Players so far have made their debuts. Will we see more against Iran?

You need to wait for the kick-off. It’s quite possible.

You have a philosophy to hand International debuts to young Players. Is it a gamble, or is it a strategy?

There’s always an element of gamble in it – simple because you never know how it’s going to turn out. But I believe in ability. I believe in the character of the Player. When I play the player I believe that he will make a difference.

In some cases I was aware that he was going on to play for the first time but in most cases I was unaware of the fact that they had not played. They had been there along and were good enough. So when I feel a Player can add value to the Team, I just don’t care about his age or the number of times he has played. I just field him.

Describe Iran.

Big! Strong! Powerful! Quick!

They are just fantastic with their movements both on and off the ball; not to forget about their great pedigree in the World of Football. For sure they are one of the Best Footballing Nations in Asia. The rank of 44 doesn’t come to you in one day. They are just the overwhelming favourites.

The last time we played at Home, Carlos Queiroz had mentioned that Iran were a bit taken aback by India’s aggressive play. What can be expected this time?

That’s our style, our game; that’s how we are. The Indian National Football Team loves to express themselves on the field. We have the ability to stand up for ourselves and we step out into the Azadi Stadium, we will walk out with full respect for Team Melli, but will not fear them.

By Nilanjan Datta,

AIFF Media Team