A fair bit has happened in the three Wednesday’s between India’s encouraging start under Bob Houghton in Kolkata and the Asian Cup qualifying return-leg match against Saudi Arabia in Jeddah.
Bhaichung Bhutia opened his account for the season and hat-trick man Yasser Al Qahtani is out with a stomach strain. On the flip side, Shanmugham Venkatesh won’t be at the Prince Abdullah Al Faisal Stadium in Jeddah pulling the midfield strings because of an injury and the Falcons go into this match having beaten defending champions Japan 1-0 at the same venue two days ago.
Moreover, with temperatures around 40 degrees Celsius during the day, there is as much chance of Saudi Arabia slipping in the slush as snow in Kolkata. "The weather is a problem. Even the evenings are muggy,” skipper Bhaichung Bhutia said from the Radisson SAS Hotel in Jeddah. Manager Pradip Chowdhury agreed.
"The city comes to life only in the evening when the temperature is usually in the early 30s and a slight breeze makes conditions bearable.”
Venkatesh’s unavailability is likely to present a huge opportunity for young Anupam Sarkar.
Team sources said the East Bengal defender could be drafted into a more central midfield position by Houghton in continuation of his year-long project to discover the right Indian footballers.
"He can shoot with both feet, has sound defensive abilities and isn’t overawed by the fact that he is wearing an India shirt. He could be a future prospect,” a member of the contingent said. With Houghton’s stated desire of defending up the park, Sarkar could play a key role in stopping the flight of Falcons. That apart, there aren’t likely to be too many changes from the team lined up in Kolkata.
“Each match is a new experience but, yes, we would like to continue the good work which began in Kolkata. We must watch out against silly goals,” Bhutia said