The preparatory camp for the 24-member senior national football squad in Dubai starts on Saturday. On Thursday, India coach Bob Houghton detailed plans for the year, saying it will be packed with a lot of international games.
“It is the start of a year in which the team will be involved in many international games,” Houghton said. The Asian Cup finals are slated for 2011 and India will also have to play qualifiers for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
“We will be preparing for two huge competitions. This is exactly the sort of stimulus we need,” Houghton said.
“The team decided to return to Dubai because of the overall facilities available for training,” Alberto Colaco, All India Football Federation (AIFF) general secretary, said. The players will train at the Emirates Sevens Grounds every evening, off the Dubai-Al Ain highway.
On February 20, India will face Sharjah club Al Shaab at their stadium. Opponents for the next match, on February 23, is still unconfirmed.
Injuries have been a source of worry after the last round of the I-League matches. But according to the coach, “all the players are fit to train, except Subrata (Pune FC goalkeeper) Pal.” Houghton said Pal’s injury though isn’t serious.
The squad will reassemble in July in Portugal for another camp. “I will be looking at the training sites and hotels in Lisbon,” Houghton said. “We chose Portugal as it will be comfortable for the team to get a good number of games and we can easily play the Portuguese clubs.”
What comes next in September is still a source of discussion between AIFF and Houghton. The team will regroup in the country and “try to play five games”, the coach said. On September 4, India will play Thailand in Bangkok. The rest of the matches (on September 8, 15, 22 and 29) are still undecided, he said. Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, Jordan, China, North Korea, China, Iraq and Qatar are among the countries that have been invited to play.
Then there is the round of World Cup qualifiers, on October 8 and 12. “Obviously, the World Cup qualifiers come first,” Houghton said.