By Abhishek Roy, IANS
New Delhi : India has a realistic chance to win the Nehru Cup international football tournament starting here Friday but it will not at all be easy, feels captain Bhaichung Bhutia.
“We are looking forward to winning this tournament and we have a realistic chance of doing so. But it would certainly be a tough ask and we have to perform really well,” Bhutia told IANS.
Besides hosts India, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Syria and Kyrgyzstan are the other teams in the 13-day tournament to be played at the refurbished Ambedkar Stadium.
Bhutia added that the Nehru Cup would be a good preparation for the 2010 World Cup Asian qualifiers that start in October. In the first round of India face Lebanon, ranked 135, in the away and home matches slated for Oct 8 and 28 respectively.
The Nehru Cup has been revived by All India Football federation (AIFF) and the Oil and Natural Gas Corp (ONGC) after a gap of 10 years. The Nehru Cup was launched in 1982 as an annual international football tournament and from 1989 was held every alternate year until the last edition at Kochi in 1997.
India has never won the tournament, which has been claimed by the erstwhile Soviet Union on four occasions and twice each by Iraq and Hungary. Poland, Romania, North Korea and Uruguay have won it once.
“It is important for the national team to perform well in this tournament. If we win, it would be fantastic for the game in the country,” said Bhutia.
The last time India won an international tournament was in 2005 when they lifted the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Cup in Pakistan.
The winning team’s coach Syed Nayeemudin, now in charge of the Bangladesh national squad, was removed unceremoniously after the players revolted against his allegedly dictatorial attitude.
Bhutia, also the captain then and one of the first to raise his voice against Nayeemuddin, now feels that much has changed since Englishman Bob Houghton was appointed chief coach in May 2006.
“A lot has changed in Indian football after Houghton took over as chief coach. I have played under a lot of coaches but I feel he is the best we have ever had.
“The important practice sessions are ones that are a learning exercise and under Houghton we experienced just that. Practice sessions should also be fun and he is also the one who made us realise this,” said the Indian captain.
Till recently the Indian team used to revolve around Bhutia and he feels that the notion is changing slowly.
“Now each player knows what his role is on the field, again courtesy Houghton. He has made all the players think on the field,” he added.
Goal scoring has always been a worry for the Indian team and the captain, who is also the lead striker, feels that the issue has been handled well. The only thing that worries him is the psychology of the players.
“The problem of scoring goals has been handled well and we have worked hard to change the psychology of depending solely on the strikers for goals. Everyone must work hard to make the goals possible,” he said.
“I have good strike partners in Sunil Chetri and Abhishek Yadav and I am also in a good shape compared to last year,” he said.