India not taking Bhutan lightly in SAFF Cup semi-final

June 10th, 2008 - 6:06 pm ICT by IANS  

Male, June 10 (IANS) Defending champions India will not take any chances when they clash with surprise opponents Bhutan in the semi-finals of the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Cup at the National Stadium here Wednesday. Bhutan, the lowest ranked team in the tournament at 196th, have surpassed expectations to set up a pre-summit date with the title holders. They finished second by beating Afghanistan in their Group B, behind Sri Lanka.

The last face-off between the two semi-finalists was in 2006 edition in Pakistan, where India emerged victorious.

But this time the Bhutanese are better prepared and were impressive in their 3-1 win over newcomers Afghanistan.

India coach Bob Houghton said his strategy for the semis would change with Bhutan coming in.

“I was under the notion that we will be facing Afghanistan. But Bhutan’s performance surprised me. We haven’t played them in recent months so I don’t have any plan for them,” Houghton said.

India captain Bhaichung Bhutia, too, said he had a hazy remembrance of the last match India played against the Bhutanese, but he had watched their matches in this tournament on television.

“They are a good attacking side. And from what I saw, I think they have improved a lot from what they were in 2006,” Bhutia told IANS on the eve of the match.

“We don’t have any specific plans for them. We have to play well and make the best use of the chances that we create. In the semi-finals we can’t afford to miss chances. The boys have played well all through the tournament and we will keep up the tempo in the semis as well,” he said.

India will go out with a 4-4-2 formation with Bhutia and Sunil Chettri upfront. Steven Dias, N.P. Pradeep, Renedy Singh and Climax Lawrence will cover the midfield.

But, defences is Houghton’s concern as he will be without two key players — N.S. Manju and Sameer Naik. Manju is out with an injury, while Naik picked up a double booking in the last match against Maldives.

“I was under the impression that Sameer would be available for this match because I was told that group stage cards would not count for the knock-out phase. But, the organisers now say that only yellow cards received in successive matches will be withdrawn. But Sameer was sent off after being shown the yellow card twice,” said Houghton.

Inexperienced Gourimangi Singh and Anwar will be the replacements for Manju and Naik, and that will put a lot pressure on Mahesh Gawli and Deepak Mondal. Subrata Paul under the bar will also have to be more alert.

Bhutan’s Japanese coach Koji Gyotoku made it clear that his boys will give a tough fight.

“I have a set of amateur players and I am impressed with their enthusiasm and talent. I can assure you it won’t be easy for India.”

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