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 By Paul Murphy

Stephen Constantine praises 'one of the best' India sides for Asian Cup

India head coach Stephen Constantine is delighted that "one of the best Indian teams in history" have qualified for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup, but he insists that they still have work to do to finish top of their group.

India sealed their place in the United Arab Emirates in Jan. 2019 by beating Macau 4-1 on Wednesday. They now sit eight points clear at the top of Group A.

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But Englishman Constantine is determined to see his side win their group ahead of Myanmar and Kyrgyzstan.

"We have achieved our target, but the job is far from being done as we want to finish first in the group," Constantine told the-AFC.com.

"We can't afford to sit and celebrate for long. We have to get back to business pretty soon as we're playing Myanmar shortly. This is a terrific team effort over anything else.

"If not the best, this Indian team is surely one of the best Indian teams in history and the credit goes to all. Starting from the players to the supporting staff, it's the result of everyone's dedication and hard work."

In his second stint in charge, Constantine has been at the helm for over two years, with predecessor Wim Koevermans missing out on the tournament in Australia in 2015.

The expansion of the competition to 24 teams has opened the competition up to a wider range of countries. But, for now, Constantine is focusing on the progress the team have made during his most recent time in charge.

Stephen Constantine.
Stephen Constantine says the 2017 squad is one of the best Indian teams in history.

"We achieved our goal to qualify for the Asian Cup and I'm immensely proud of my team. They have followed my manners, my demands," said Constantine.

"They've gone through anything and everything like the tough training regime, rigorous pressure and at the end of the day, they have delivered."

India captain Sunil Chhetri remembers how their last attempt to qualify ended with humiliation in the AFC Challenge Cup -- a tournament for so-called emerging nations.

India performed dismally, losing all three games to come bottom of a group that featured North Korea, the Phillipines and Tajikistan.

"It's a great feeling to qualify for the Asian Cup," India captain Chhetri said. "I am very happy with the way the boys performed. In the second half, we spoke about bouncing back.

"It felt so bad when we missed the qualification last time around. You don't get to play the best teams in Asia quite often so it's a great chance now. We are India, we will put our head down and work even harder."

India host Myanmar on Nov. 14, and a victory would ensure that they finish their Group A campaign as winners.

Bangkok-based Paul Murphy has lived in Asia for a decade, writing for ESPN FC since 2014. He is a former Daily Express sub-editor. @PaulMurphyBKK

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