Tough task for India in SAFF Championships

December 1st, 2009 - 8:52 pm ICT by IANS  

Sushil Kumar New Delhi, Dec 1 (IANS) The India under-23 football team will leave for Dhaka early Wednesday with the tough task of winning the SAFF Cup that the seniors surrendered last year in Colombo.
Coach Sukhwinder Singh, who was unceremoniously sacked as the national coach four years ago, is now in charge of the under-23 side and the veteran coach knows that he has a big challenge in hand.

Last year, the seniors under national coach Bob Houghton played misreably, losing the final to the Maldives. This time both the teams are in the same group, along with Afghanistan and Nepal. Hosts Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bhutan make the other group. The tournament starts Friday and will be played at the Bangabandhu Stadium. The final is slated for Dec 13.

Sukhwinder, former JCT coach, doesn’t want to delve the past.

“What happened last year is past. This is a young team and I have full faith in them. We have to take one match at a time and then only we can think of winning the tournament,” Sukhwinder told IANS from Mumbai.

Being the highest ranked team in the region, four-time champions India are strong favourites to win the $50,000 tournament but they often get bogged down by expectations.

“Being the biggest team in the region we are always expected to win the tournament. We had a good training camp in Goa and this tournament will give the boys some good exposure before graduating to the national team,” he said.

The Maldives emerged as one of the best teams in the region while war-ravaged Afghanistan also showed encouraging signs in the AFC Challenge Cup in Hyderabad last year. India were lucky to scrape past with a 1-0 win in the Challenge Cup opener against Afghanistan.

Sukhwinder feels that the quality of football in the sub-continent is improving and that will also help India.

“The SAFF Cup has become competitive more than ever before. It is good for all the teams and Indian youngsters will benefit from it,” he said.

This is the second time the torunament in being hosted by Bangladesh. In 2003, Bangladesh had beaten Maldives via penalties to lift the trophy for the first time in front of their home crowd. India have won the championship four times, the last being in 2001 in Pakistan.

The team:

Goalkeeper: Arindam Bhatacharya, Laximikant Kattimani

Defender: Ravanan, Denzil Franco, Nirmal Chetri, Noaba Singh, Ravinder Singh, Robert Lalthlamuana, Rowilson Rodrigues,

Minfielder: Baldip Singh, Balwant Singh, Jagpreet Singh, Jewel Raja, Jibbon Singh, Joaquim Abranches, Subodh Kumar

Forward: Jagtar Singh, Manish Maitahni, Zeze Lalpeklua, Sushil Kumar Singh

Officials: Sukhwinder Singh (coach), Tanumoy Basu (goalkeeper coach), Sabir Pasha (assistant coach), Priti Kumar (masseur), Chandru Jayaram (physio) and Dilip Chakraborty (manager)

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