India are without injured Gawli and Dias for first match: AFC Cup Preview)

July 29th, 2008 - 8:01 pm ICT by IANS  

By Abhishek Roy
Hyderabad, June 29 (IANS) Under coach Bob Houghton India won the Nehru Cup and lost the SAFF Cup. Now he has the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Challenge Cup to prove that Indian football has the potential to go through the rigours of a uch tougher international tournament. Fitness is the key for Houghton. He had only one player on the injured list at the Nehru Cup and at the SAFF, half the team was limping. Here his two key players, dependable defender Mahesh Gawli and linkman Steven Dias are nursing niggles.

The 58-year-old Briton admitted on the eve of India’s opening game against Afghanistan that including both the injured players in the 23-member squad was a calculated risk he had to take.

“Having a 23-member squad gives you the chance of taking such risks. Both the players will miss the first match and hopefully be available for the second,” Houghton told reporters here Tuesday.

Last year both the players played crucial roles in India’s maiden victory in the Nehru Cup and that is the reason why Houghton is not ready to let go these two players.

Houghton said he was taking one match at a time and is looking ahead for the Afghanistan match.

He is also unhappy with the training facilities and the schedule of play. He called off a training session within an hour, complaining of poor underfoot conditions at the hoary Police Stadium at Goshamahal in the congested business centre of the state capital.

How can a disturbed team with a whole lot of grievances perform to their potential and win a crucial tournament? India’s recent loss to a lowly-ranked Maldives in the SAFF Cup final still rankles and they have to leave that shocker behind and face up to some worthwhile opponents in the tournament, starting at the Gachibowli Stadium here Wednesday.

Afghanistan are the lowest ranked team in the tournament at 181. Going by the FIFA rankings, India, at 153, should be clear favourites and they need to kick-off the tournament with a convincing win in their Group A game.

India’ other opponents in the group are not going to be easy as defending champions Tajikistan and Turkmenistan can be handful.

India may be the highest ranked team in its group but there is little to choose between them and the other teams, Tajikistan (154th) and Turkmenistan (158th). The Indians will indeed have to produce quality football to qualify for the semi-finals.

Tajikistan and Turkmenistan have the firepower to dash India’s hopes. They play power football and that can rattle the Indians.

First the Indians have Afghanistan to contend with. The strife-torn nation were a surprise package in the SAFF Cup last month. But they can at best be spoilers. The Indians are better-prepared for the tournament as they have just come back from a fruitful training-cum-competition warm-up tour to Portugal.

Afghanistan topped their group in the qualifiers by defeating higher ranked teams like Bangladesh and Kyrgyzstan. They are comparatively a young side and will revolve around their main striker Harez Arian Habib, who plays for German Landesliga Hessen-Nord 1st Division Club FSC Lohfelden. And his experience of playing in Europe should help the side.

Habib will have the support of fellow striker Hafizullah Qadami, a reliable ally. Even their 22-year-old goalkeeper Shamsuddin Amiri will surely be their busiest player and would have to be at his very best to keep out the opposition.

If India have to make it to the finals then they have to finish as leaders in Group A. If they finish second, then they may face North Korea in the crisscross semi-finals.

Getting past 94th ranked North Korea, which is in Group B, will be a tough ask for the Indians. North Korea is the highest ranked team in the tournament and is grouped with Sri Lanka (161), Myanmar (164) and Nepal (177).

India squad:
Goalkeeper: Subroto Pal, Subhasish Roy Chowdhury
Defenders: Mahesh Gawli, Deepak Mondal, Surkumar Singh, Gourimangi Singh, Samir Naik, Anwar, Govin,
Midfielders: N.P. Pradeep, Climax Lawrence, Clifford Miranda, Renedy Singh, Ajayan Nair, Bungo Singh, Mehrajuddin Wadoo, Rahim Nabi, Baldeep
Forwards: Bhaichung Bhutia, Sunil Chettri, Sushil Kumar Singh, Manjit Singh, Abhishek Yadav

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