Good year ahead for Indian football: Houghton


New Delhi : National football coach Bob Houghton Friday promised a "good year ahead" for the 161 ranked Indian team, as it starts its month-long preparations for the seven-nation ONGC Cup tournament that begins here in August.

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"This is a very important year for the team and the first training camp will officially start here Saturday. We will be playing three important tournaments this year, which will help us improve our rankings," Houghton told a press conference here.

"In addition to the three tournaments, we also have three World Cup qualifiers and a friendly match. In all, we will be playing around 15-16 matches this year, that would give us an opportunity to improve our rankings."

India, who are currently 161 in the FIFA rankings, will play ONGC Cup here in August and defend the title in the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Cup, to be jointly hosted by Sri Lanka and Maldives in December.

In March 2008, India will take part in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Challenge Trophy, where teams outside the top 15 in Asia participate. India's first World Cup qualifier for the 2010 event in South Africa is likely to be on Feb 6 next year. The draw for the World Cup qualifiers is yet to be made.

"Last year the senior team played only three matches. Our 165th rank (last season) was not the reflection of the quality of Indian football. Now we have to win matches to get points to move up the rankings," said Houghton.

The first camp is being held at the Tau Devi Lal Sports Complex in nearby Gurgaon. The Englishman is hopeful that India can do well in the August tournament that would feature national teams from Bangladesh, Cambodia, Syria, Myanmar, Kyrgyzstan and possibly Iran.

"They are all near us or just above us in the rankings. It will give us a good chance to win matches and may be even the tournament," said Houghton.

According to him, the AFC Challenge Trophy would also be of prime importance for India, ranked 31st in Asia, as the finalists directly qualify for the Asian Cup finals.

"AFC Challenge is another tournament where we can hope for some success as the top-15 teams don't take part. Moreover both finalists qualify directly for Asian Cup finals," he said.

Houghton believes in the proverb "success breeds success" and feels that by the end of the year "we will be good enough to give a good challenge to anyone."


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, Rennedy Singh, Bungo Singh and Gourmangi Singh

Forwards: Bhaichung Bhutia, Sunil Chetri, Abhishek Yadav, Manjit Singh, Tarif Ahmed and Anthony Perreira