India forced to play Rafi in Asian Cup opener


Doha : Forward Sushil Singh is ruled out of the first two matches of the AFC Asian Cup football tournament, having been suspended on disciplinary grounds, leaving chief coach Bob Houghton with no option but to include I-league top scorer Mohammad Rafi of Churchill Brothers in the 23-member Indian squad.

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Sushil was suspended for elbowing a North Korean in the AFC Challenge Cup in Colombo last February while captain Bhaichung Bhutia is nursing a calf muscle injury. That leaves India with just two strikers, Sunil Chettri and Abhishek Yadav, for their opening match against Australia Monday at the Al Sadd Stadium.

A top team official told IANS that no team can play a match with two strikers, more so against the World No.26 side, and Rafi, who was a stand-by for the injured Bhutia, will perforce be played.

“We may deregister one player to bring in Rafi. In no way we can risk playing against Australia with just two strikers and Rafi has to be played upfront,” the official said.

Asked if Bhutia would be deregistered again to make way for Rafi, he said: “That’s for Houghton to decide. Though Bhutia has played for just 30 minutes in the last 18 months, his influence in the dressing room is huge, so Houghton may think of dropping a defender or a mid-fielder.”

Bhutia was dropped from the squad to include him in the squad as a technical official only to get him back in as a player Friday.