India missed out on the knockout spot by a whisker and eventually finished at the bottom of the Group A standings after a 0-1 defeat to Bahrain on Monday evening at the Al-Sharjah Stadium, UAE.
The Blue Tigers started off their Asian Cup campaign in style with a 4-1 thrashing of Thailand before they went down to UAE 0-2 in a game which they dominated the proceedings. However, they needed a point going into the final game but a late penalty in the 90th minute ended their hopes of a historic progression into the knockout stages of the continental competition.
“I am bitterly disappointed to go out in the 90th minute with a penalty. The boys are sick as you can imagine. I am just disappointed for them as they gave everything in the last few games. We perhaps didn’t create enough chances as we did in the first two games. That’s it. We go home,” said coach Stephen Constantine, who resigned from the position after the game.
The 56-year-old pointed that had India converted the chances that came their way against UAE or if the boys would have held for the final five minutes on Monday, they would have surely made the cut for the round of 16.
“It’s a stark reality. We didn’t deserve to go out. We came here to try and qualify from the group. Overall, it is more than what people expected. Nobody had even expected us to qualify for the Asian Cup in 2015 in the first place. The boys have exceeded expectations. Unlucky we did not score three of four chances against UAE and in front of Bahrain, we could not hold out last three or four minutes. That’s football,” he exclaimed.
Constantine clarified that India didn’t go into the game in order to clinch a point. He reasoned that lack of experience did them in as they conceded a cheap penalty in the dying embers of the game.
“We didn’t intentionally sit out for a draw. Bahrain was full of energy and looking to get the goal. We were defending deeper and deeper and were finally punished. But I think we were a bit unlucky. To defend well for 90 something minutes and then get beat by a penalty is harsh.
Commenting on his resignation as head coach coming immediately after India’s exit from the Asian Cup, the former Rwanda coach explained, “I have been here for four years. My objective from day one was to qualify for the Asian Cup and we have done that. I am exceptionally proud of the players for everything that they have given. I think my cycle is finished. I did what I was asked. It is time for me to move on.
“I was there in India from 2002-2005. I left the country in a better place than it was in 2002. In my tenure from 2015-19, they are in a much better place than they were in 2015. We have a crop of young players who have a bright future. They need to qualify for these tournaments on a regular basis. They have the talent pool to do that,” he mentioned.
“I don’t think it is the saddest day in my coaching career. It is not a great day for sure. These things happen in football. I think we didn’t do enough today to win this game. And obviously, I will be sad to leave the boys because they were fantastic to me. And it is time to move on,” he signed off.