An elated coach Bob Houghton today described India's 2-1 victory over Turkmenistan as one of the best matches under his tenure and lavished praise on captain Baichung Bhutia, who he said played a "fantastic" game here.
"I don't know how many matches we played in the last 12 months but I think this would be one of the best matches in the last 12 months, though it was played under heavy ground conditions. The boys played a terrific match. They deserve to win," Houghton said at the post-match press conference.
"All the boys played very well, but Baichung was outstanding. He led from the front and three goals in three matches. It was fantastic," he added.
Baichung scored a brace in the 54th and 80th minutes to give India a 2-1 victory over Turkmenistan in their last Group A match and a semifinal berth in the AFC Challenge Cup football tournament.
Praising his talismanic skipper, who keep on inspiring his team with superb performances even at the age of 32, Houghton said, "In the first match against Afghanistan Baichung had a hand in the winning goal. After playing 90 minutes, he chased down the goal-bearing ball from near the corner and Climax (Lawrence) made the finishing touches. The commitment and hard work at his age just like the other boys was terrific," the Englishman said.
Houghton said his charges played three games in three different conditions but came out with flying colours each time.
"In the the first match against Afghanistan, the opposition was an interesting bunch of players, in the second match against Tajikistan the ground was rock-hard, not conducive to good football and today it was against a strong team and under heavy ground conditions. But the boys have come out well in each occasion.
"These are a bunch of boys who are honest and have a never-say-die attitude, I am looking forward to the semifinals which will be an altogether different game," the English coach said.
Asked whether his decision to rest key players in their second match against Tajikistan in view of the tight schedule has paid dividends, the 60-year-old coach said, "I am happy that Baichung had a bit of rest by playing less in the second match, Surkumar was also the same and Renedy got full rest."