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India embark on crucial last lap

sports Updated: Nov 01, 2010 00:21 IST
Siddhanth Aney

Bob Houghton's 30 chosen ones went through a medical on Sunday, a day before leaving for Dubai.

The team will set up base in the desert city for the next two months, the most critical phase in the build-up to the Asian Cup in January next year.

"It was a routine medical, which is required as per AFC and FIFA rules. The boys have just returned from a break, so I haven't had enough time to fully evaluate their physical condition.

We will have a better idea once we get to Dubai and do a couple of days' training, but most of them have said they are feeling better," said team doctor Sachin Yadav.

The list of injuries is long, and will be a worry for Houghton. Key players like Bhaichung Bhutia, Renedy Singh, Mahesh Gawli, Climax Lawrence and Samir Naik are all still on the mend. "Injuries are a concern, but we hope that by January, everyone will be fit. Mahesh is ready to get back to training, and I am getting to full fitness, so things are looking okay," said captain Bhutia.

The importance of the Dubai camp cannot be overstated. "We have a game against Iraq and another against Kuwait, who are in great form of late. These are big games, and playing better teams will prepare us for the big boys." Iraq are Asian Cup champions, and Kuwait recently beat Australia.

On the eve of their departure, there was a sense of excitement in the team. "We are probably going to play our first game on November 11. That doesn't give us much time, so the pace will be frantic. Hopefully, we will play 7-8 games, and get as sharp as possible. The boys are looking forward to getting back into action," Renedy Singh, the team's senior midfielder, said.

"Dubai is a good place to train. The weather and conditions will be similar to Qatar (where the Asian Cup will be held), and the facilities are world-class, so we are sure these two months will do us a lot of good," he added.