Bengaluru/Abu Dhabi, January 1: As India returns to the AFC Asian Cup after an eight-year gap, national coach Stephen Constantine has promised to make the country proud with their performance in the UAE.
For the Blue Tigers, it will be their fourth AFC Asian Cup appearance after 1964, 1984 and 2011.
Coming into the tournament, Constantine's wards are in decent form and they recently held mighty Oman to a goalless draw in an international friendly, which was their final tune-up match ahead of the AFC Asian Cup 2019 to be held from January 5 to 31.
But India's real challenge comes when the tournament kicks off on Saturday as they are drawn in a tough group featuring the hosts, familiar foes Bahrain and Thailand.
India begin their campaign against Thailand at the Al Nahyan Stadium in Abu Dhabi on Sunday (January 6) and Constantine, who spoke high about Indian football recently is looking ahead with full of confidence.
"Any group we were drawn in was going to be tough but we are here by merit the players and staff have worked extremely hard and all deserve to be here. We will give a good account of ourselves and make India proud," Constantine was quoted as saying in an interview with AFC Media Channel.
"We are completely focused on AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 and the team has been performing excellently under Stephen Constantine having risen to 97 from 173 in the FIFA ranking within less than 4 years," AIFF General Secretary Kushal Das said.#IndianFootballhttps://t.co/fopcE6DBrr— Firstpost Sports (@FirstpostSports) December 29, 2018
The last time when India played in the AFC Asian Cup -- the 2011 edition in Qatar -- the team lost all its matches and crashed out in the group stage.
Constantine opined that much has changed in Indian football since that especially with the team embracing technology more.
"We're now using sports science which has been very instrumental in how we prepare and that we're able to keep our players in good shape on and off the field.
"The quality of the players was there in 2011 as it's now but I feel there's a more holistic approach now to then in that we are able to use the GPS systems to ensure that the loads we give players are manageable. We're also using video analysis and are able to look at what we do right and correct and improve ourselves on a daily basis," he added.
Bengaluru FC skipper Sunil Chhetri and goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu are a couple of survivors of the Indian team which played in the 2011 AFC Asian Cup.
Constantine feels the present bunch is much better prepared than the one in 2011.
"I think there is a huge difference in terms of how we prepared back then. We started to prepare for this as soon as we had qualified mathematically from the group which we won.
"It's obviously a great honour and a privilege to be here among the elite of Asian football. It's after all the World Cup for Asia the biggest tournament we have in Asia."