Young India gear up to face ‘Giants of Asia’ Iran

Nilanjan Datta
AIFF Media Team

TEHRAN: Clouds, Rain, Cold and snow on the Mountain peaks at a distance. Not much has changed in the last two days since Stephen Constantine’s boys landed safely in Tehran on Monday(March 21) for India’s Russia 2018 World Cup Preliminary Joint Qualification Round 2 against Iran slated to be played on March 24 (Thursday).

Rain greeted Team India onto the training ground in their first of the two evening sessions on Tuesday (March 22) evening. It drizzled in between with the continuous threat of lightning hovering above almost all throughout.

At the end, there was rain again, this time with hail which forced all to desperately huddle in the two dugouts for safety. In the absence of any changing rooms, eventually the boys, all wet, travelled back in the Team Bus to the Team hotel, a drive for almost 45 minutes.

The two halves of 45 minutes each on the Azadi Stadium will be tougher.

“Playing Iran in Iran is as tough as it can get,” comments Constantine. “It’s like David vs Goliath on the field. Iran are the Giants of Asia.”

“We have huge respect for Iran. We understand that we will be without the Ball for most part of the match. We will try to stop them. We will fight and try to get something out from the match,” he utters at the Official Pre-match Media Interaction. “We have four key Players missing. We are a young side.

On paper, we have nothing to lose. We will give everything which we have. If we can take anything out of this game it will be a bonus.”

Jeje Lalpekhlua, named Captain for the match agreed. “Tomorrow will be a difficult game for us. But we are here to fight and aim to take something out of the game,” he pronounced at the Media Interaction.

At 44 on FIFA Rankings, Tem Melli stay the highest ranked Team in Asia and have consistently qualified for the World Cup. Several of their established Players either are, or have played in Europe and some of the new ones are regularly in the news with Premier European Clubs expressing interest.

“We always look forward to being involved playing with Big Teams. Big Games against Big Teams in front of big crowds — that’s why we play the Game.

Don’t we?” Constantine queries you back.
You could hardly doubt him.

“We always look forward to compete against the best and Iran are one of the Best Teams in Asia. The Azadi Stadium is an unbelievable Stadium and presents one of the best atmospheres that I have witnessed as a Coach,” he states.

You remember speaking to Sunil Chhetri prior to the departure to Tehran. “I will miss this one,” he had said. “It’s against Iran and it’s at the Azadi Stadium. Not every day you get to play there,” he had maintained.

The trip down memory lane isn’t that encouraging. Despite all the golden past you discover that India last beat Iran in 1959. After that it has all been one-way traffic.

The Team Hotel being located in perhaps the busiest street in the City the buzz of the speeding cars on the wet streets reminds you of a similar and continuous roar of a Sea Beach. But mind you, there’s no honking.

Constantine goes back to the roar of the Azadi Stadium. “The decibel levels are high. When they are in full voice it’s simply fantastic. Iranians are very passionate about their Football and it can be intimidating. But that’s the beauty of Football,” he quips. “But when we step onto the field, we will carry with us our confidence and full respect for Team Melli but we won’t fear them.”

For the 22-member squad whose average age is around 24, there are four Players who haven’t made their International debut as yet. And there is a 18-year old in the squad as well.Thursday may see someone break into International Football. And it will describe his character.

The kick-off at the Azadi Stadium is at 7pm (Iran Time).