Ahead of their crucial match against Macau in the 2019 AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers, India will look to gain some practice against Mauritius and St Kitts in a tri-nation friendly series that begins in Mumbai from Saturday. Ranked considerably higher than their two opponents, India will fancy their chances to emerge on top.
Coach Stephen Constantine has hinted that he might field a few youngsters during the tournament, that will see India go in as the favourites. The team has been on a roll off late with wins over Myanmar and Kyrgz Republic in the first two rounds of their qualifiers. However, there are quite a few areas that the team needs to address as they aim to seal their qualification for the Asian Cup against Macau.
Constantine, though, has warned against complacency and said the two teams would provide a good test for his team which will be without senior members Sunil Chhetri and Gurpreet Singh Sandhu. In the No 1 keeper’s absence, Subrata Pal is likely to get a game. This will be his first game for India since getting a clean chit after having tested positive for doping earlier in the year.
From Manchester United to Mauritius
Constantine, though, will have a few other things on his mind as well. Going into the opening clash against Mauritius, the India coach will be wary of his counterpart, Francisco Filho, who is a former Manchester United youth team coach. He served under United’s legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson and will look to use his wealth of experience to good use in his first assignment since being appointed manager of the Mauritian team.
“India are on a fantastic run right now and it’ll be a good opportunity for us to play them right now. There are really good players in the Indian team,” Filho said.
Filho said that the Mauritian outfit is full of youngsters, who are raring to prove a point. No stranger to galvanising a young bunch of footballers, Filho seemed confident despite the rankings gap between his side and India.
Born in Sao Paulo, Filho began his career as a professional player at the age of 16. He went on to play in Brazil, Venezuela, Portugal and France. He was appointed as United’s youth coach in 2002, working directly under Ferguson. While in Manchester, Filho also had the unique task of acting as an interpreter for Cristiano Ronaldo when he arrived at Old Trafford in 2003.
He was appointed manager of United’s U-17 team, and later the U-18 side, but retired from football in 2005. He returned to management after getting an offer from American outfit AC St Louis to be their Director of Player Development.
He was appointed the manager of the Mauritius team only in August following the team’s dismal showing in the African Nations Championship (CHAN) qualifiers where they failed to reach the next round.
Filho has a talented bunch of youngsters at his disposal, with a few players who have plied their trade in Europe.
Filho will have high hopes from two key members of the side, who have spent most of their formative years in the French football set up.
Brothers Kevin Bru and Jonathan Bru will form the crux of Mauritius’ challenge on Saturday. The duo bring with them a wealth of experience accrued largely in Europe.
Kevin, 28, is a prominent member of England’s Championship side Ipswich Town and has earlier played for the French national under-19 team. His elder brother Jonathan, 32, has played in nearly every French age-group team. He currently plays for French fourth division side AS Poissy.
Born to Mauritian parents, the two, though, were formally initiated into football in France after the family migrated there. The two steadily moved up the ladder in France’s junior setup. However, they never could break into the highly competitive senior team that was bursting with the top dogs of international football at that time.
Their Mauritian roots opened a gateway for them to get a chance to play the game at the international level.
On being asked about the team composition, Filho mentioned that some of his players are plying their trade in Europe when others are regular in Mauritius National League. “I have got Jonathan from Toulouse while Kevin Bru plays for Ipswich Town. Apart from these two guys, a few more play in Europe. Overall, there’s a perfect blend of experienced boys with youngsters who can perform at the highest level too,” he said.
Mauritius is ranked 160th while St. Kitts and Nevis is ranked 125th. Ranked 97th in the world, India, are clear favourites, but history has shown that the team is not averse to slipping on a few banana peels here and there.
Coach Constantine will be hoping to avoid any shock defeats that could demoralise a team which has been on a winning run. It is a test, which on paper should be easy to clear, but India will want to avoid silly mistakes.
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