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India take on Myanmar in Asian Cup opener

India will look to starting their Asian Cup campaign on a high when they take on Myanmar.

IANS | Yangon, (Myanmar) |

The Indian football team will look to starting their Asian Cup campaign on a high when they take on Myanmar in a Group A tie here on Tuesday.

For the final round of qualifying, Stephen Constantine's team has been drawn alongside Kyrgyzstan and AFC Solidarity Cup runners-up Macau and begin their attempt to qualify for the finals with a trip to Yangon.

"I know they're very well organised and they have a very good coach in Gerd Zeise," Constantine told 

"He's been there for quite some time and he's developed some of the players through the age groups and I think he's done a fantastic job there.

"Their Under-20s have recently qualified through the AFC for the FIFA U20 World Cup (in 2015) on merit, so he's done a fantastic job and they will be a very difficult opponent for us, both home and away, so I have nothing but respect for them," he added.

During his absence the Indians qualified for the 2011 AFC Asian Cup finals in Qatar by winning the AFC Challenge Cup on home soil in 2008 under fellow Englishman Bob Houghton, the first time the country had qualified for the continental championship since Singapore in 1984.

India missed out on a place in Australia in 2015, but Constantine believes with the dawn of the Indian Super League and the country's impending hosting of the FIFA U17 World Cup later this year an upswing in the nation's football fortunes is possible in the near future.

"We have a lot of things going on, we just need consistency in terms of philosophies and development. India is such a large country and there are so many variables. It sounds easy to say let's get one system in place, but that has to go out into the districts, the villages, the towns and we have 36 state associations and some of those state associations are larger than countries in Europe," e said. 

"Logistically and to get the word out it takes that much more time to do, but I think in the last two years we have seen the senior national team come on, our u-17s are going to be hosting the World Cup, and that's a massive event for any country and a great honour.

"There's so much interest in Indian football and academies are springing up all over the place and while they may not be all be doing the right thing the interest is there now for football in India. It's a question of trying to get things all aligned and that takes some time," he added.

Constantine said qualification for the finals in the United Arab Emirates in 2019 would give the game in India another boost and vindicate the approach currently being taken to improve the sport in the country.

"I think whenever you qualify for a major event it's a sign you're doing things the right way and for India to qualify for the Asian Cup would be a huge thing," he said. 

"Given the state of our football, we have the league and the domestic leagues are ok, but they're not at the same stage as China or Korea Republic or Iran, UAE those kind of countries.

"We've got a long way to go. But qualifying for the Asian Cup is a huge step in the right direction and it gives everybody that impetus to keep pushing on and I think qualifying for those major events is what we need to be trying to do on a more regular basis," the coach added.

India are coming into the game on the back of a 3-2 win against Cambodia but they were far from convincing.

Gurpreet Singh Sandhu and co will have to step up against a side who come into the game with a 1-3 win over Indonesia, a team ranked higher than them in the rankings. 

The Asian team have dropped some 30 places on the ladder in the last month alone, but they are expected to make strong gains in the coming period.