New Delhi : At a time when the Indian football team is gearing up for the next season to move up in the FIFA rankings, the absence of a genuine striker is worrying chief coach Bob Houghton.
"Lack of an out-and-out goal scorer is a big worry for the Indian team. The front players are a big problem. The problem persists with the English team as well," said Houghton here Monday.
Houghton, however, had words of praise for Jagatjit Singh Cotton (JCT) Mills striker Sunil Chetri, who was the top scorer in the national football league.
"You don't have a big base to select from but Chetri has done reasonably well in the national league… Even in England the problem persists," Houghton said, while announcing the list of probables for the 2007-08 season.
According to the chief coach, the next 12 months will be crucial for the national team, currently ranked 165th in the world, to make some headway in the FIFA rankings.
"In the next 12 months we will have a chance to make a big difference and the next two-three months will be very crucial," said Houghton.
India will play 15 international matches in coming months. In August, the national team will play the ONGC International Tournament and then the SAFF Cup in December, jointly hosted by Sri Lanka and Maldives.
"I think I can have the team together for a much longer time as I won't have any Olympic qualifier and Asian Games. It is necessary for any national team to stay together as long as possible," said Houghton.
India's first World Cup qualifier match for the 2010 event in South Africa will be held Feb 6 next year though the draw for the qualifiers is yet to be made. In March, India will take part in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Challenge Trophy, where teams outside the top-15 take part.
"The matches will give us chance to significantly improve our rankings. The AFC Challenge Trophy is also important in the sense that the finalists will be able to take part in the Asian Cup," Houghton pointed out.
The Indian team will also go to Portugal for a training camp in July.
Goalkeepers: Arindam Bhattacharya, Sandip Nandy, Subhashish Roy Chaudhuri and Subrata Paul
Defenders: Surkumar Singh, Mahesh Gawli, Deepak Mondal, Syed Rahim Nabi, Samir Naik, Sanjiv Maria, N.S.Manju and Debabrata Roy
Mid-fielders: K. Ajayan, Climax Lawrence, N.P. Pradeep, Clifford Miranda, Steven Dias, Mehrajuddin Wadoo, Renedy Singh, Bungo Singh and Gourmangi Singh
Forwards: Bhaichung Bhutia, Sunil Chetri, Abhishek Yadav, Manjit Singh, Tarif Ahmed and Anthony Perreira
Anupam Sarkar and Chandam Chitrasen (subject to fitness)