Football: The Blue Tigers (India) will take on the Dragon Boys in an unofficial friendly match on August 13 at the Changlimithang Stadium in Thimphu.

The team is currently preparing for the final stages of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Cup in March next year. The friendly match against Bhutan will provide exposure to the young players before the game.

However, the head coach of the Indian national team, Stephen Constantine, considers the game to be as crucial as any other official international match.

“It’s not just an exposure game,” said the English coach.  “For me every time you play for the national team, it doesn’t matter if it’s a friendly, AFC or the World Cup qualifiers, when you put on your national jersey, it’s an important game.”

The Indian team, who were scheduled to fly to the USA to train, were denied in the last minute. Stephen Constantine said that the team needed to get as many international matches as possible before the AFC Cup.

However, the cancellation of the trip to the USA, he said was immediately compensated by the Bhutan Football Federation when it agreed to host the team in Bhutan.

The 20-member squad who arrived in the country on August 8 had their first training session yesterday. Although most of the popular names on the team will be missing the friendly, the young players in the squad have an opportunity to make it into the good books of Stephen Constantine.

Two years ago, when the English coach took over the Indian national team, his focus was on creating a bigger pool of players. Some 28 new players were trained in the national team in the last 18 months. “Now we have a problem to select who will play for the team because at least there are two players fighting for one position,” said the head coach.

Fortunately, for the young talents, several popular names on the team were not released by their club Bengaluru FC because of the upcoming AFC qualifiers.

The coach said that this will be an opportunity for the young players to showcase their talents.

The coach added that he is expecting a tough match from the Bhutanese side. “However, I expect to win,” he said. “Even if I’m playing against Brazil, I would still say the same because it is all about winning. You respect the opponent, as we do with Bhutan but, at the end of the day you play to win and not to lose.”

In the past four years, the Indian national team has come a long way said the coach. “The team was placed at 180 in the FIFA World ranking when I first took over the team and today we are on 152. I like to believe that we are improving.”

The coach also acknowledged the improvement the Bhutanese national team has shown recently.

“Things are moving in the right direction for Bhutan,” said Stephen Constantine. He said that with strong support from the technical director, general secretary and the president, BFF is doing the right thing for the promotion of football in Bhutan. “It is difficult given the population size of Bhutan and the limited resources, but the team has done very well and there is still room for improvement.”

The team will be playing against the Bhutanese side at a higher altitude.

“Playing at different altitude is something that you have to deal with in international football,” he said. “To acclimatise is a part of the game. Hopefully by the 13th my boys are used to the condition and we are able to play our game.”

The team arrived four days prior to the game to adjust with the weather and altitude in Thimphu.

Younten Tshedup