The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Constantine sees ‘tough’ battles

Hyderabad: Robbed off much of its charm in the absence of top African teams, including Cameroon, the football competition of the inaugural Afro-Asian Games kick-off tomorrow with hosts India taking on Rwanda in group A at the Lal Bahadur Shastri Stadium here.

In another league match in the same group, Malaysia would take on Ghana. But some uncertainty still prevails as the African team is yet to arrive. According to latest information Ghana will arrive Wednesday morning.

The absence of African giants Nigeria, Cameroon and Senegal has weakened the field in this inter-continental meet and the countries that have come have brought their junior or second string teams as the senior players were unavailable owing to prior club commitments in Europe.

India are placed in a relatively weaker group.

The competition was originally scheduled to start on Tuesday but was postponed after Rwanda and Ghana failed to arrive on time.

Weather will also play a crucial role as heavy downpour continue to lash the city in bouts under the influence of a depression in the Bay of Bengal.

Matches in group B comprising — Iran, Zimbabwe, Burkina Faso and Uzbekistan — were slated for Thursday. Iran have confirmed their arrival on Thursday morning and also agreed to play their first match the same day, AIFF officials said.

Almost all the participating teams that are here pleaded ignorance about their rivals, but steered clear from hazarding any guess beyond pledging to put in their best performance.

India, which showed signs of a recovery with their title win in the four-nation LG Cup in Vietnam last season, have slipped down the ladder after that.

In their preparatory tour to Thailand, they drew goalless against the hosts U-23 side before losing to the Thai national team, ranked 64th in the world.

Chief coach Stephen Constantine is realistic about his side’s chances and doesn’t want to look beyond the first match, though he asserted that the team had been shaping up well.

“We have done well in the Busan Asian Games and in Thailand too we played better,” he said.

“All the rival teams are ranked above us and the matches will be tough.

“We may not have immediate gains, but playing against tougher opponents will help India in the longer run,” Constantine said adding his aim was to “win the first match”.

On injury problems, he said it should not be much of a worry. But the coach said he might not play seasoned medio Jo Paul Ancheri, who was nursing a leg injury. The coach, however, declined to name his final eleven.

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