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Bhutia optimistic of good showing in Nehru Cup

August 16, 2007 19:08 IST

India has a realistic chance of winning the ONGC Nehru Cup international football tournament, starting on Friday, said skipper Baichung Bhutia, advising his team to concentrate on one match at a time.

"The way our pre-season preparation has been and the manner in which our training sessions have gone, winning the tournament is a realistic expectation," Bhutia said.

"However, it is not going to be easy, as we cannot take any team lightly. We need to take it one match at a time and not look at the end result," the Mohun Bagan striker said.

India take on Cambodia in the tournament opener at the Ambedkar Stadium, in Delhi, and coach Bob Houghton said he is not looking beyond that match.

"We need to concentrate on the Cambodia match now. If we win that, we can go forward from there. It all depends on how we play tomorrow," the Englishman said.

Cambodia is coached by Australian Scott O'Donell and Houghton said the South-east Asian team is hardworking and tough to beat.

"The teams from that region play a certain style of football and we cannot take them lightly," he said.

The five-nation tournament would be a good preparation for the World Cup qualifiers coming up next.

"We face Lebanon in the first round and Syria (one of the teams in the ONGC Cup) beat them 1-0 last year. They play a similar style and we can know where we stand in relation to Lebanon," Houghton said.

The Indian squad had gone on a three-week preparation trip to Portugal, where they won two matches and drew the other two. The coach said it was ideal for the season ahead.

"We worked on various positional combinations and worked on the tactical side of the game and also on mental toughness. I got to see some players who had not played under me before," Houghton said.

Bhutia said the Indian team had players who are as good as some of the best in Asia.

"We have two proven goal scorers in Baichung and Sunil Chetri. Tariff Ahmed is another option for us while Abhishek Yadav is useful in set pieces," he said. "Bungo Singh can deliver very good crosses."

However, Houghton said lack of a designated training ground for the national squad is a problem.

"The stadium in Gurgaon isn't great. I have talked about this with AIFF general secretary Alberto Colaco and, hopefully, by the end of this year we will have a designated training ground," he said.

Cambodia is made up mostly of players from their under-23 side as the team is in a rebuilding process, coach O'Donell said.

"There are only three players over that age in the side," he said.

O'Donell has played club football in Australia as well as in Malaysia and Singapore. As coach of Geylang United, he played against East Bengal in the 2004 AFC Cup and had seen Bhutia, Mahesh Gawli and Deepak Mondal in action.

Cambodia is drawn against Turkmenistan in the World Cup qualifiers and O'Donell, who has been with the team for the last two years, said the match against Kyrgyzstan would be an indicator of their relative strengths and weaknesses.

"The Cambodian team rarely plays abroad. None of their players play outside the country. The league is also not very strong. They play once a week while in other leagues there are matches every two days. There is also a lack of proper facilities," he said.

But the former central defender said his team was not here just to make up the numbers.

"We are going into tomorrow's match with an intention to win. Otherwise, there is no point being here and we are simply wasting our time," he added.

Meanwhile, the Kyrgyzstan team has arrived for the tournament without 10 of their top players.

Head coach Nematjan Zakirov said they are back in their country preparing for the World Cup qualifiers where they will face Jordan.

"Our national league is also on at present and so we could not bring many of our best players. Some of them are also injured while some, who play outside Kyrgyzstan, have not been released by their clubs," he said.

It would be their first international tournament in India. However, they had been to Kolkata in October last year to play in the AFC Youth (Under-19) championship.

As for the prospects of his team in the tournament, Zakirov said, "There is one ball, it is round and it is a level playing field. Anything can happen."

However, he was not very complimentary about the practice facilities provided by the organisers.

"The ground is uneven and the goals are also not of standard size," the Kyrgyzstan said.

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