Indian football coach Stephen Constantine stepped down from his job following India's defeat to Bahrain which knocked them out of the Asian Cup and brought a promising campaign to a crushing end.
Constantine, who is in his second stint with India, said his four-year term with the Indians had ended with the Asian Cup and said, "I've been here for four years. My objective from day one was to qualify for the Asian cup and I've done that and we've broken a few records as we'd done that. I'm exceptionally proud of the players and everything they've given."
He said that the defeat to Bahrain had disappointed the entire squad, "To go out in the 90th minute with a penalty... it's really tough. The boys gave everything, I don't think we created as much as we normally do. The boys are sick as you can imagine and I am disappointed for them. They gave everything they could in the last few games."
The team had not intended to play out a draw, Constantine said, adding that the inexperience of the side -- the youngest in the competition -- had got them retreating into their own half and allowing Bahrain to launch repeated attacks and completely dominate in the second half.
"We didn't intentionally set up for a draw. Obviously Bahrain started with real energy, looking to get the early goal and as the game wore on, this is maybe a little inexperience on our side... we started defending deeper and deeper and deeper and in the end, we got punished. But I thought we were unlucky. We defended well for ninety-something minutes and as the 70th and 75th minute came on the boys thought, 'okay we can hold on.' Bahrain were playing with six forwards and four in midfield, it was tough, but to get beaten by a penalty is harsh in anybody's eyes."
Looking back on his last four years, Constantine said that the team had continued to improve following his two stints as coach. "The team and the football in the country was in a better place than what it was in 2002, (when he took up the job for the first time) and fast forwarding ten years, 2015 to 2019, they are in a much better place than we were in 2005.
"We have a crop of young players, I think the future is theirs, they need to quality for tournaments like this on a regular basis if they want to be successful. I think they have the players and the talent pool to do that."
After thanking key functionaries of the AIFF for their support, Constantine ended his press conference on an emotional note, saying he was sad to be leaving the players, "The boys have been fantastic for me, even the guys who couldn't make the final squad, and it's time to move on. I haven't lived in my own house for six years, I see my daughters -- three of them -- every three or four months..."
At this point, the coach's voice broke and when asked what single message he had for his team, all he could manage was, "That if they believe hard enough, they can."