India’s Barcelona work-out will be on test in Nehru Cup (Preview)

August 18th, 2009 - 7:46 pm ICT by IANS  

Sushil Kumar By Abhishek Roy
New Delhi, Aug 18 (IANS) Indian footballers could not have asked for better training facilities than what they got at the fabulous Nou Camp in Barcelona in the run up to the ONGC Nehru Cup, kicking off here at the Ambedkar Stadium Wednesday.

The Indians spent a week in Dubai before their month-long stint in Catalonia’s capital and they should now be ready for the big test of defending the cup they won two years ago. They are up against the sturdy Lebanon in their first round-robin match.

India, ranked 156th in the FIFA rankings, do not have pleasant memories of their previous outings against the 147th-ranked Lebanese. In the World Cup qualifiers in 2007, India were crushed 4-1 in their away match in Lebanon and drew the game at home 2-2 in Goa.

India coach Bob Houghton Tuesday said this time India are better prepared to take on international teams on the continent. He feels the training session in Barcelona, where the team also played some matches against club teams, were encouraging.

The Indians may not have played Spanish premier league club teams to test their skills, but then Houghton’s philosophy is not to get walloped by superior teams. So they were happy playing four games against third division sides and winning two and drawing two. The other four teams in the Nehru Cup also may not be in the league of top European clubs sides for the Indians to fear.

“Psychologically, the players are in a better shape. It will help them perform well in the tournament,” Houghton told reporters here on the eve of the match.

The Englishman is well aware that his team will have a tough time against the well-built Lebanese, but said in the past two years the average height and the built of his team had improved.

“Lot of things have improved in the last two years. We have won two international titles and our average height in the team has also increased to 178 cms. You need well-built players to win international matches. All are encouraging signs for Indian football,” he said.

Houghton said the tag of defending champions will create a feel-good environment in the team.

But injury problems won’t make him feel too good. Houghton has showed courage by including injured striker Sunil Chettri in the side and hoped that the Dempo player can play some part at some stage of the tournament. His ace striker and national captain Bhaichung Bhutia is 33 and in the past few matches, Houghton has not played him for 90 minutes in every game.

For Houghton the challenge will be to form a potent attack and try out some new faces keeping the 2011 Asian Cup in mind. Though he is happy with the performance of substitute Abhishek Yadav, Houghton also dropped hints that newly appointed East Bengal captain Syed Rahim Nabi can also play an important role upfront.

Houghton declined to name his starting eleven and picked up a quote from the famous England manager Terry Venables saying: “Pick the best team in your mind and make 4-5 changes.”

But it appears that Sushil Kumar might be preferred to Yadav to start with Bhutia. Yadav himself doesn’t remember when was the last time he had started, but said that the change is a good sign for Indian football.

“It is a good sign that Bob is now having some options. I think it will also benefit the team since we are also preparing for the 2011 Asian Cup,” Yadav said.

The starting eleven also won’t have many changes. Subrata Paul, who had an unimpressive I-League with East Bengal, now has the look of confidence after the Barcelona trip while central defender Dipak Mondal may start along with Gourmangi Singh, Anwar and the seasoned Mahesh Gawli. The mid-field will comprise Steven Dias, Climax Lawrence, N.P. Pradeep and Renedy Singh.

The only new face in the 20-member side is Dempo midfielder Anthony Pereira, who replaced his clubmate Clifford Miranda, and has impressed Houghton with his goal scoring abilities.

Meanwhile, Lebanon coach Emile Rustom does not want to take the defending champions lightly, despite his team’s better record against the hosts.

“Due to political turmoil in our country we haven’t played much. But we are well prepared for this tournament. But the Indian team has done well and are going from strength to strength,” he said.

Rustom will be banking on his star striker Mohammad Gaddar to demolish India.

Gaddar scored four goals during the World Cup qualifiers against India and the Al Nejmeh forward hopes he could repeat that performance.

India squad:

Goalkeeper: Subrata Paul, Subhashish Roy Chowdhury; Defenders: Mahesh Gawli, Gourmangi Singh, Anwar, Surkumar Singh, N.S. Manju, Dipak Mondal, Sameer Naik; Midfielders: Climax Lawrence, Steven Dias, Renedy Singh, Anthony Pereira, Mehrajuddin Waddoo, Syed Rahim Nabi, N.P. Pradeep; Forwards: Bhaichung Bhutia, Sunil Chettri, Sushil Singh, Abhishek Yadav.

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