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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

India looking for hat trick

Aiming for a title hat trick under coach Mr Bob Houghton but hampered by lack of international match exposure, defending champion India will bid for a second consecutive Nehru Cup, taking on Lebanon in a tricky opener of the five-nation tournament on Wednesday.
Under Mr Houghton, India won the 2007 edition of the Nehru Cup before clinching the Asian Football Confederation Challenge Cup at home, which gave the country a berth in the elite AFC Asian Cup, to be held in Doha in January 2011, after 24 years.
The Nehru Cup will give Houghton a chance to test his boys how they measure up to at least two quality sides ~ Syria and Lebanon ~ who are now vying for a place in the Asian Cup.
Bhaichung Bhutia's side are a confident lot after a seven-week training tour of Dubai and Barcelona.

They played friendly games against Spanish third division sides in their month-long sojourn in Barcelona where they used top class facilities at Nou Camp. The sore point though would be the lack of international fixtures. The Indians played their last such match in January though Houghton claimed that the Spanish third division sides "were of our level". Houghton himself picked last edition runners-up Syria as the favourites to win the tournament at the Ambedkar Stadium, considering that the West Asians are inside top 100 in Fifa rankings at 95th and have beaten sides like China besides drawing Korea this year.

Sunil Chhetri's injury will give Sushil Kumar and tall Mumbai forward Abhishek Yadav the chance to be in the playing XI more often along with captain Bhaichung Bhutia upfront as has been done in the friendly games in Barcelona. East Bengal captain Syed Rahim Nabi has also been tried by Houghton as a striker in Spain.

With the 2011 Asian Cup in mind, Houghton has also indicated that he may start with younger legs in deep defence and in that case taller players Gouramangi Singh and Anwar may be seen in action. In the midfield also, Houghton is likely to field the younger Anthony Pereira at left wing more often than senior player Renedy Singh who has had minor injuries in recent times. In fact, Renedy was tried at the right wing position in four friendly games in Barcelona as Steven Dias' substitute. With the absence of Chhetri, talismanic captain Bhutia will have to find more goals for India besides trying to once again inspire his side to title victory.

The Sikkimese said his ongoing tussle with Mohun Bagan on his suspension issue has distracted him in the preparations of this tournament. But having said that he will have to put his distractions aside and try to motivate his teammates in front of the home crowd in a country virtually starved of international football matches. More than 20,000 people came to the Ambedkar Stadium in the final against Syria on August 29, 2007 to cheer the home team, which won 1-0.
Exuberant fans celebrated wildly and Bhaichung and Co. would want to see similar scenes here again on 31 August.

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