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Houghton sets 2018 World Cup target

May 28, 2008 17:17 IST

Setting 2018 as the realistic target for India to qualify for the football World Cup, national coach Bob Houghton has asked for devoting more time on development of age-group players, instead of continuing with "antiquated tournaments" like Santosh Trophy.

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Houghton said the country can think of World Cup qualification only 10 years later and that too by choosing a professional approach and nurturing the age group players.

"The development of U-19, U-16 and U-14 teams is essential if we are to realistically make a challenge for the World Cup 2018," the Englishman said. "The qualification for 2018 World Cup will start in 2015 ... seven years from now when U-19, U-16, U-14 teams will be the right age to play in that qualification."

"This will also help our qualification for 2012 London Olympic Games.

"It is a long way to go to get India, currently ranked 26th in Asia, into the top four ranking positions (in Asia). This is the task if we are to qualify for the World Cup," he told All India Football Federations official website ahead of the team's departure for SAFF championship in Maldives and Sri Lanka.

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"The Santosh Trophy is an outdated and antiquated competition.

"If India is to make progress in the highly competitive world of international professional football, it needs to streamline its domestic football structure. I-League players and of course international players should not play in a myriad of cups and trophies and state tournaments," he added.

"India must choose (one way or other). It either has a dominant I-League and a Federation Cup competition, which our players take part in, exclusively.

"This is in line with all other major football playing nations. Or it chooses to stay in the past with all these other traditional tournaments.

"If it chooses the latter of these, India can forget about competing on the international stage or qualifying for a World Cup."

The 60-year-old former Fulham player said it will not be easy for India to defend the SAFF Championship title which they had won in 2006.

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"We are looking forward to the SAFF competition. Playing Sri Lanka in Colombo and Maldives in Male is no easy task, but it's a good challenge. I'm satisfied with camp.

"It's been a long time since our last competition match - but next season will see a change. The national team will play four matches during the I-League season. This will allow us more continuity in the development of the senior team."

However, Houghton said he was happy at having watched from close quarters a few new faces during the camp which started in April.

"There has been many new faces during the camp, mostly younger ones. Nirmal Chetri, S Sabeeet, Mohan Raj, Govin Singh, Thoi Singh, Baldeep Singh and S Kuttymani joined us for the first time."

He said the process of spotting taller as well as talented players will take time.

"More than 50 per cent of (international) goals are scored from set plays. Our lack of height makes this a big problem from both attacking and defending free kicks and corner kicks.

"At our current camp in Goa, we have 30 players. The 14 players who are over 23 have an average height of 1.71. The 16 players younger than 23 have an average height of 1.78," he claimed.

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