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India eye Lebanon revenge

Hoping for an August hattrick at the Ambedkar Stadium, India kick-off the Nehru Cup against Lebanon in New Delhi on Wednesday evening, reports Abhishek Hore.

sports Updated: Aug 18, 2009 23:30 IST
Abhishek Hore

Hoping for an August hattrick at the Ambedkar Stadium, India kick-off the Nehru Cup against Lebanon in New Delhi on Wednesday evening.

Terming it an English August may not be the most original in this context but that's how it's been for India and their British coach Bob Houghton over the past two years. On August 29, 2007, India, cheered by a soldout Ambedkar Stadium, beat Syria through NP Pradeep's goal to win their only Nehru Cup. Next year, Sunil Chhetri's hattrick and a Bhaichung Bhutia strike fetched Houghton's boys the AFC Challenge Cup and a ticket to the Asian Cup finals.

A training camp in Barcelona which has had everyone going ga-ga and consistency at home does boost thoughts of three in a row but then, there are no guarantees in sport. Sunil Chhetri's left ankle remains a worry, but a much-improved Sushil Kumar is likely to step in if the Dempo striker sits out the crucial opening tie against Lebanon. “Psychologically, the players are in a better shape. It will help them perform well,” Houghton said in New Delhi on Tuesday.

The Briton resident of Cape Town is aware that his boys will have a tough time against the well-built Lebanese (147th in the FIFA rankings), but said the average height and build of his team has improved since 2007. “It was 172 when I joined but now the average height is 178.”

India's World Cup qualifying campaign lasted only one round, thanks to Lebanon and a quirky method of competition followed by the Asian Football Confederation. Another Nehru Cup provides India with an opportunity to avenge that loss. “There was a player in the midfield who tied us down during those games against Lebanon but he hasn't come this time, so we will try and use that to our advantage,” said skipper Bhutia.

Houghton's biggest task will be to plan a squad for the 2011 Asian Cup final in Doha. For the moment, Clifford Miranda, quite a regular on the left side of the midfield, isn't in that plan. Nor is Rakesh Masih. Miranda took it in his stride. “These things happen. It's all part of life. Whatever decision the coach (Bob Houghton) has taken is for the benefit of the team,” he said.

Miranda's place is likely to go to Anthony Pereira who has been used on the left by Houghton in the Barcelona friendlies. “There was a time when I used to practise with a different set of players before every international tournaments, but things have changed for the better now,” said Bhutia.