With his sights firmly on the 2011 AFC Asian cup, Indian manager Bob Houghton has laid down an exciting road map for his ‘Bhangra Boys’. India has qualified for the Asian cup, to be held in Qatar early next year, after emerging victorious at the 2008 edition of the AFC challenge cup. The men in blue last appeared in this tournament in 1984 when they did not manage to go beyond the group stage; finishing at the bottom of their group.
India is slated to play a minimum of seven international friendlies later in the year to gear up for Qatar. It certainly seems like the Englishman in charge of our national team has finally heard the “hues and cries” of the team along with that of millions of Indian football fanatics, who have always asked for more international exposure for our team.
After flying back from the recently conducted conditioning camp of the team in Dubai, Houghton clearly stated that the sole focus of this team is 2011 and for that purpose no player will be released for any domestic cup.
India will undergo another campaign in the Portuguese capital of Lisbon during the months of July and August before their international fixtures. India will start their international season against Thailand in Bangkok from the 4th of September. The National Team is further scheduled to play four more matches in the month of September for which invites have been sent to eight Asian nations including the likes of Qatar, China and DPR Korea.
The venues for these four matches have not been finalized yet, although Ambedkar stadium in the capital would definitely be in the minds of the tournament organizers, considering it has proven to be a happy hunting ground for our national team; with all major tournaments being played on this turf in the past few years. Team India has their hands full in the second half of the year as they have two World cup Qualifiers on their plate as well.
Expecting our team to equal their best ever finish – runner’s up – at the 1964 Asia Cup would be a little to much to ask from them but as far as preparations are concerned, Bob Houghton is surely leaving no stone unturned.
Courtesy Houghton, the reins of the Indian team seems to be in safe hands for the time being. One hopes that the sleeping giants of Asian football finally rise from hibernation and do justice to the efforts of their foreign manager.