Nepal coach Jack Stefanowski has declared the pressure is all on India ahead of the first leg of their World Cup qualifying tie in Guwahati tonight.
The match will be Stephen Constantine’s first in charge since being appointed as the new Indian coach earlier this year and comes after having his squad together for just six days to prepare.
Despite that, Stefanowski believes the success of the recent Indian Super League puts the pressure firmly on the Blue Tigers, especially at home.
“The Hero ISL has brought in high expectations and the pressure is on India,” he said. “Though the Indian players are a bit athletic, there’s not much difference in the quality among the two sides.
“We have prepared for around two and a half weeks for this match. We hope to go back to Nepal with a positive result.”
The 40-year-old Polish-born American has been in charge of the Nepalese national team since 2013 after a previous stint as coach of the Puerto Rican national team.
Both he and captain Sagar Thapa are drawing confidence from Nepal’s 2-1 win over India at the 2013 SAFF Championships in Kathmandu.
“The first step was beating India,” Stefanowski said. “We have something tangible in our belief that we can beat India. The next step is to get a good result in India.”
“For me, we are improving and progressing. We have a plan in mind and a vision. So, each time that we play from where we started. Of course, we want to win but we have to make sure that we keep making the progress,” he concluded.
Thapa said he hopes his team “plays in the same spirit” as that historic day in 2013.
Constantine, who was previously the coach of the Nepal national team, is looking to take India to where he believes they should be – which isn’t 171st in the world as their current FIFA ranking suggests.
“It’s time for the sleeping giant to wake up,” he declared
“We need to have a new beginning and try to develop a new look and a new attitude and that’s why we have a new captain.
“Sunil (Chhetri) is a part of it but for the next two matches Subrata Paul will be the captain. We have huge respect for Sunil and that’s the reason we have him as the vice-captain.”
Paul, the experienced 28-year-old goalkeeper, claims there is no extra pressure on his shoulders given his new role.
“This is the toughest match of my career,” he claimed. “There’s no pressure on me. I know what my duty is and I want to enjoy my football. We have practiced hard for this and the support staff has been helping us at every step.”
Meanwhile, deposed captain Chhetri is only focusing on tonight’s game and not giving any consideration to the return leg in Kathmandu next Tuesday.
“The first leg of a two-game tie is always important,” the Bengaluru FC midfielder said.
“We have to give our best and hope that we have a lot of home support behind us. We are not thinking of the second-leg match in Kathmandu as the first game isn’t over as yet.”