New Delhi: Indian football coach Stephen Constantine says the fitness level of his players are not "encouraging" ahead of what he feels could be a "very difficult" World Cup qualifying match against Iran.
India travel to Tehran to play Iran on March 24 in their second leg away game in the Russia 2018 Joint Qualification Round 2. India were beaten 0-3 in the first leg at Bangalore.
"We have conducted some sests and the fitness levels are not very encouraging. All I can say is that players need to be in better condition than they are," Constantine stated during a chat with the media.
"You need to sweat and run. Playing in Iran will get as difficult as it can get. They have a history of playing in the World Cup and are the giants of Asia, presently placed at 44. It's like David vs Goliath on the field," he added.
For the record, India are placed some 116 places behind at 160.
The Indian squad leaves for Tehran tomorrow morning. Post their match against Iran, India are scheduled to play against Turkmenistan in Kochi on March 29.
"We will face a lot of difficulties against Iran. The concern also stays to stay away from injuries and yellow cards as we play Turkmenistan at home on 29th and aim to make the most of it. I may have to juggle a few things around."
Looking back at his second stint in India, Constantine stated that he has been able to achieve his targets so far.
"My first target was to take the team to the World Cup Qualifiers which we achieved. The next target was to retain the SAFF Championship and we came out triumphant. The next goal is to be there at the Final Qualifiers for the 2019 Asian Cup and I want to achieve it too," he said.
"The AIFF administrators have given me all the support and the freedom to do things as I see fit. I am thankful for that. Furthermore, right from my Team Manager to the Medical Staff to the Equipment Manager -- all my support staff have been excellent," he maintained.
"In the process we have handed International debuts to 22 players in 10 months. I have also been able to bring the average age of the Team from around 32 to 24. My aim is to develop Indian players and leave a legacy behind when I leave."
In Delhi where the team assembled prior to departing for Iran, Constantine has had six practice sessions in four days.
"During my tenure the best players in the Hero I-League have been players who have come from the national team. There were players who were overlooked for various reasons.
"When I came in, the easier option would have been to continue with the tried and tested. But I chose the other path to have new blood inducted in the squad which was harder. Simply because I want to leave India in a better position than what I had when I came in."