Ahead of India's 1-1 draw with Bangladesh yesterday in Kolkata, resident blogger Asif Burhan spoke to former India coach Stephen Constantine and Bangladesh coach Jamie Day about the development of Asian football.


“Bengalis love their football”, recalls former India manager Stephen Constantine.

“In 2004, India played a one-day cricket game on a Sunday, they had 50,000. We played Japan on a Wednesday, we had 90,000 and 25,000 people were outside. The two biggest clubs in India are from West Bengal. The passion for football is there”.

Yesterday in Kolkata, an old rivalry took on a new sporting dimension when India played its first match at the Salt Lake Stadium since 2011 against neighbours Bangladesh in World Cup qualification.

Tickets, priced between 100-499 rupees (£1-5) sold out for the team’s first World Cup match since 1985 – at a venue which once housed 131,781 spectators for a Kolkata derby between East Bengal and Mohun Bagun. Now, with the capacity reduced, 61,486 spectators packed the “Mecca of Indian football” officially known as Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan. They witnessed a 1-1 draw, with Saad Uddin giving Bangladesh a half-time lead before a late Adil Khan goal rescued a point for the hosts - a result which left both countries still searching for their first win.

Englishman Stephan Constantine, who coached India over seven years during two spells, still refers to India as “we” nine months after leaving the job. Now, looking for a new coaching role, he said “it was a huge honour to be India’s manager, not once but twice”. Having lifted India into the top 100 of the FIFA World Rankings, Constantine resigned after a late penalty knocked them out of the Asian Cup group stage, a week after he had masterminded their first victory in the tournament since 1964.

“It was a tough decision. We had a really good run. We created a lot of history in that time. I felt it was the right time”.

The formation of the Indian Super League in 2013 fuelled hopes that World Cup qualification was imminent but Constantine is more cautious.

“Until our domestic league is more competitive, it’s difficult. The fact we qualified for the Asian Cup is fantastic, the onus is on this team to do it again. We need to qualify for the Asian Cup consistently. The World Cup is too far for us this time. We have a fantastic group of young players. We were the second-youngest team in the Asian Cup, 14 of the squad were under 23. There is huge potential there”.

Constantine believes poor coaching has held the country’s footballers back.

“There’s been a huge problem with coach education. Therefore we’re not producing the players that we should be. Anywhere you go in India, you’ll find good players but if they’re not being taught the basics from an early age, you’re not going to get the quality of players you want to play in the national team”.

Croatian Igor Stimač was hired to take India into World Cup qualification. A home defeat to Oman was followed by a creditable goalless draw away to Asian Cup holders, Qatar. Against Bangladesh "The Blue Tigers” had to go on the offensive and win to have any hope of returning to Qatar for the World Cup.

Former Arsenal trainee, Jamie Day, has coached Bangladesh since May 2018 overcoming Laos in the first round of qualification. A late away goal from midfielder Robiul Hassan proved decisive when “The Bengal Tigers” played out a goalless draw in the second leg.

“It was fantastic to beat Laos. We believed we could beat them because of the work we’d done in the previous 12 months”.

Goals are scarce for the team ranked 187th in the world. His squad, drawn entirely from the Bangladesh Premier League, have a combined total of 30 goals between them, less than half that of Indian captain Sunil Chhetri.

“I think scoring is always going to be an issue. Most of the local clubs have foreign players as strikers meaning our national forwards have to play out of position”.

Chhetri’s goal against Oman was his 72nd for India, moving him into the top ten men’s international goalscorers in history, four ahead of Lionel Messi. The 35-year-old continues to be India’s talisman.

“It’s not a one-man band”, said Constantine. “He’s a born goalscorer but he doesn’t score if someone doesn’t give him the ball. They have to start thinking about life after Chhreti because he isn’t going to be there much longer”.

Bangladesh sit bottom of Group E following defeats to Afghanistan and Qatar. Day however, saw signs of progress.

“We played very well against Afghanistan and deserved to get something from the game. We’ve learned that we can compete with higher-ranked opposition but if you give those teams opportunities, they’ll take them”.

A legend at Welling United after leading them to the Conference South title, Day now divides his time between England and South Asia. Living in the world’s second most densely-populated city hasn’t fazed the Londoner, “Dhaka is a very busy place but everyone has been really welcoming since I've been in Bangladesh”.

There, he works with an English coaching team. “It's important to have staff you trust. You have to adapt to the level of players you’re working with and if possible change things slightly to achieve your ideas”.

By adapting his squad’s diet and introducing gym sessions, Day believes he has improved his players' physiques. “In my time here we’ve become a lot fitter, stronger and more organised”.

Improving stamina has also been one of Stimač’s priorities.

"Against Qatar, we proved something to everyone talking about a lack of fitness. They defended with such concentration throughout, which proves their fitness capacity”.

"Our aim is for now to go to the Asian Cup continuously, not occasionally, and the 2026 World Cup. We are choosing players who can develop through this time to give us an extra strength in a few years time"

For Day, ambitions are more limited.

"I think this current World Cup group stage will give our younger players great experience going forward, I believe in the future this will help us climb the FIFA Ranking table and hopefully one day put us in a better position to compete at World Cup level”.