Stephen Constantine believes he has left the India national team in a better place at the end of his second four-year tenure as he made an emotional farewell following his team’s dramatic exit from the 2019 Asian Cup.
Following their opening 4-1 win over Thailand and 2-0 defeat to hosts UAE, India needed just a draw against Bahrain in Sharjah on Monday to secure passage from Group A. However, an injury-time penalty – combined with Thailand's 1-1 draw with the UAE – saw India eliminated.
“I’m bitterly disappointed to go out to a 90th minute penalty which was tough for the boys who gave everything on the pitch,” said Constantine, who left the post-match conference room in tears.
“We didn’t create as much as we normally do. The boys are sick as you can imagine and I’m just disappointed for them, as they gave everything in all three games.”
India finished at the bottom of Group A on three points behind the UAE, who collected five points, while Thailand and Bahrain both finished on four points, with the Thais claiming second on head-to-head having beaten Bahrain.
“When the whistle went and Thailand drew 1-1, that was the stark reality,” Constantine said. “We came here to try and qualify from the group and the boys gave an overall good performance.
“Nobody expected us to qualify for the Asian Cup and I must say the boys have exceeded all expectations.”
Despite the heart-breaking manner of their Asian Cup exit, Constantine leaves his role as India manager having brought the team on leaps and bounds. The Englishman led the team to just their third appearance at the Asian Cup – now in its 17th edition – while the win over Thailand was India’s first in the tournament for 54 years.
“Nobody in this room would have thought we could do this, how many records we’ve broken and what records we’ve achieved in the four years,” Constantine said. “Our objective was to qualify for the Asian Cup and I did what I was asked and even more.
“The last time I was in India, it was 2002-2005, and I left the team and the country in a better place than it was. They are in a much better place now than it was in 2005.
“They have a young crop of players and the future is theirs. They need to qualify for these tournaments regularly. If they want to be successful, they have the talent pool to do that. I wish them all the best.
“It’s not the saddest day for me but certainly not a great day. At the end, I don’t think we did enough to win the game against Bahrain. It’s sad to be leaving this fantastic group of boys.
“It’s time to move on and I haven’t lived in my house for six years and I haven’t seen my daughters.”
Bahrain manager Miroslav Soukup was delighted after his side booked their place in the last-16, with their passage far from secured heading into the match having drawn their opener against the UAE and losing to Thailand.
“I saw my team play the way they had prepared,” the Czech said. “The first game [against the UAE] was tough and we couldn’t score in the second game [against Thailand].”
“Tonight, it was amazing game. They deserved respect and they felt they were stronger and they could win. We had trust on them until the last minute that we could score. It was a lucky day with the penalty, though.”