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Football team ready to kick-off
November 28, 2006 20:34 IST
India open its football campaign in the Asian Games against lowly Hong Kong in Doha on Wednesday, but the job in Pool 'D' has become tougher with Iran being reinstated in the draw.
The team, led by Baichung Bhutia, arrived in Doha after a 10-day preparatory camp in Dubai, thus ending the uncertainty surrounding its participation in the Games.
The 20-member team, cleared on no-cost-to-government, will also play Maldives in the pool.
Goalkeeper Sandip Nandy, midfielder Climax Lawrence and striker Baichung Bhutia are the three players over 23 years of age in the squad.
Nandy was very thrilled to be at his maiden Asian Games and confident that the team would do well.
''The team had started thinking positively ever since Bob Houghton took over as coach,'' he claimed.
''We are now confident of doing well. The positive thinking instilled by the coach has been a big plus point. The draw against Al Shaab Club, one of the best teams in the UAE, in the second practice match in Dubai did a lot of good to our confidence. We are prepared for the challenge in Doha," he added.
On Monday the team had its first training session at the Aspire training centre.
Once considered a major force in Asia, India are now struggling and placed way down at 148 in the world rankings. It will indeed be a miracle if they reaches the semi-final stage.
The team's fortunes have been sliding ever since anyone can care to remember. From being in the top 100 in November 1993 -- India was ranked 99 -- they are down to 148 today.
The All India Football Federation has changed nine coaches in the last 18 years but with no positive results.
India last qualified for the Asian Cup in 1984 and finished last.
India's place in South Asia is also under threat, as in the last South Asian Games, the team lost to Nepal for the third spot.
Worse, the country's ranking is comparable only with its little neighbours Myanmar (150) and Sri Lanka (156).
India had won the inaugural Asian Games gold medal in 1951 and defended it in 1962 at Jakarta. Their last good show at the Games was a bronze medal in 1970. India has even struggled against Maldives in the SAF Football tournament but Bob Houghton is hopeful that his boys will perform well this time.
''The team had good training-cum-practice sessions in Dubai, the players are in good nick and we hope to do well,'' said Houghton.
The Indians need to start their campaign with a convincing win, for a big margin victory even against Hong Kong will be a great morale booster to start with. The Indian forward line will have to make full use of the half chances that come its way.
On paper, India looks a well-balanced team, spearheaded by Bhutia, who will have to display his customary skill and scoring abilities.
The defence looks solid and the midfielders are competent. But how much they have learnt during their stay in Dubai will be known only on Wednesday.
The world governing body, FIFA, had suspended Iran, who won the Asian Games title in 1974, 1990, 1998 and 2002, from all international competition last Thursday because of what it cited as government interference in the sport.
''As Fifa had temporarily lifted the suspension.... the Iran football team is now eligible to participate in the football competition of the 15th Asian Games,'' Games organisers said in a statement.
Fifa's decision followed hectic negotiations between its president Joseph Blatter and the Iranian federation, who had earlier sounded defiant on its suspension. In return for the reprieve Iran is required to meet all FIFA demands within a month, including holding a new presidential election for its federation.
With the lifting of the suspension, Sunday's draw for the second round was voided. Iraq had replaced Iran as the seeded team in Pool D when the draw for the second round was made, but will now return to the original position in Group E.
The final 24 teams in the football tournament are split into six pools of four, with the group winners and two top runners-up going through to the quarter-finals.
The Indian team:
Goalkeepers: Sandip Nandy, Subhashish Roy Chowdhury, Subrata Pal.
Defenders: Surkumar Singh, NS Manju, NP Pradeep, Anupam Sarkar, Debabrata Roy, Habibur Rehman Mondal.
Midfielders: Subhas Chakraborty, Steven Dias, Gouramangi Singh, Bungo Singh, Chitrasen Chandam Singh, Climax Lawrence.
Forwards: Baichung Bhutia, Sushil Kumar Singh, Manjit Singh, Syed Rahim Nabi, Sunil Chetri.
Chief Coach: Bob Houghton