India have to raise their game to retain Nehru Cup

By Abhishek Roy, IANS,

New Delhi : India may have made the final without any palpitations, but not many are giving them a chance of retaining the Nehru Cup football title they won two years ago beating the same Syrians in the final.

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The home team would, however, back themselves to send Syria packing in front of home crowd, a feat they managed in 2007. Back then India lost to Syria 2-3 in the league phase and went on to beat the visitors in the final. This time,too, India lost 0-1 in the inconsequential league match against Syria Saturday and would hope to turn the tables Monday.

Syria are the only unbeaten side at the round-robin stage and there was some suspense about who do they play in Monday’s final till it was belatedly revealed that India were through after their facile victory over Sri Lanka as no-one cared to flip through the rule book to see how a tie is resolved.

The inconsequential last league game gave both the teams to ponder about a couple of things.

Syrians realise that they had a reasonably tough game Saturday against an India team that rested their regulars, while the match must have given the hosts confidence to fight it out on level terms. But it will take some doing for the defending champions to send Syria home without the trophy a second time from the Ambedkar Stadium.

While India were impressive against Sri Lanka and Kyrgyzstan, they had to pull themselves back from a shock defeat in the opening game against Lebanon.

Whatever the players’ feelings be, India’s coach Bob Houghton would have liked the team to have, at least, left the stadium on level terms ahead of the final. The win would certainly boost Syria’s confidence but the match should have given enough for Houghton to strategise for Monday’s title clash.

India’s best strikers, skipper Bhaichung Bhutia, who warmed the bench, and Sunil Chettri, who came out for the last ten minutes, should be in better physical and mental shape after the day’s rest.

Chettri, who has been refused work-permit by the British government after he became the first Indian to be signed by a Championship club, Queen’s Park Rangers, will be out to prove a point or two to everyone. Bhutia will be there to nudge him upfront.

For Houghton, his right-flank has been exceptional with both winger Steven Dias and wing-back Surkumar Singh combining well to rattle the opposition.

The left-flank, however, could do with a bit of enterprise to keep pace with others now that mid-fielder Renedy Singh, who captained the team Saturday, has regained his touch.

Houghton go in with his experienced hands, though the two trusted defenders Mahesh Gawli and Dipak Mondal should make up for their slowness with a bit of imagination, while Surkumar and Gourmangi Singh look adequate. Steven, Climax Lawrence, N.P. Pradeep and Renedy should do keep attackers on their toes. But Houghton may also start with newcomer Anthony Pereira and then bring on Renedy at a later stage. This is the best line-up the Indians can think of.

The teams (from):

India: Subrata Paul, Subhashish Roy Chowdhury; Mahesh Gawli, Gourmangi Singh, Anwar, Surkumar Singh, Dipak Mondal, Sameer Naik; Climax Lawrence, Steven Dias, Renedy Singh, Anthony Pereira, Mehrajuddin Waddoo, Syed Rahim Nabi, N.P. Pradeep; Bhaichung Bhutia, Sunil Chettri, Sushil Singh, Abhishek Yadav

Syria: Mosab Blhousa, Moustafa Shakosh, Kawa Hisso; Abdulkader Dakka, Belal Abduldaim, Ali Dyab, Hamzeh Al Aitoni, Wael Ayan, Feras Esmaeel; Aatef Jenyat, Abdelrazaq Al Hussain, Alaa Alshbli, Moutaz Kaldini, Jwan Hisso, Ahmad Haj Mohamad, Bakri Tarrab, Firas Al Khatib, Mohamed Al Zeno, Abdul Fatah Alaga, Raja Rafe.