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India to seek inspiration from 2007 final for 2nd title

sports Updated: Aug 31, 2009 18:37 IST
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Inspirational skipper Bhaichung Bhutia once again holds the key as India aim for a 2007 encore against Syria to clinch their second successive Nehru Cup title in the final of the five-nation football tournament in New Delhi on Monday.

Two years ago at the Ambedkar Stadium, the home team had beaten the Syrians in front of a 20,000-strong crowd to win their maiden Nehru Cup title after losing to the same opponents in their round-robin fixture.

Bob Houghton's boys will have to take refuge in the history books once again after losing their last round-robin league match to the Syrians, 61 places above India in FIFA rankings at 95th, on Saturday.

India did not start with five first XI players, including Bhutia and Houghton was satisfied with the performance of his boys but the fact is that Syria had been the better side in the tournament having won all their four matches while the hosts had also lost to Lebanon.

Houghton though is not losing hope and rightly too as the home team will be bolstered by the return of two of the best players in the tournament -- Bhaichung Bhutia and Steven Dias -- in the starting line-up on Monday.

Bhutia has been outstanding as he has led from the front in the two matches India won by opening scoring and spearheading the attack admirably well along with Sunil Chhetri. Bhutia's presence in the Indian ranks will also infuse confidence in his team-mates.

The 'Sikkimese Sniper', in the running for the player of the tournament award having become man of the match twice, may come up with something special in the tournament during which he became the first Indian to have played 100 international matches.

Another star performer, Steven Dias, will also be looking to repeat his performance against Sri Lanka and with the return of right back Surkumar Singh, Bhutia and Chhetri are expected to be fed by those deadly curling crosses from the right flank.

It will be an interesting duel between the Indian frontmen and Syrian backline, which has not conceded a single goal so far.

Bhutia and Co. will have to do something extra to break through the Syrian citadel manned by two of the best defenders of the tournament -- Ali Dyab and Belal Abdul Daim.

In contrast, India's Achilles heal has been the back four who have conceded some soft goals in the league stage. They have to work extra hard against Syrian star striker Mohammad Al Zino and midfielder Feras Ismail.

Houghton, seeking his third title in his just-over three year tenure as India coach, exuded confidence that his boys can beat the Syrians tomorrow. "Syria are a strong side. We have to lift our game on Monday to beat them. The good crowd and the good environment and I think we can beat them in the final," Houghton said.

Syrian coach Fajer Ebrahim is satisfied with the performance of his boys and was thinking of making amends for their 2007 final loss under his charge.

"We will play even better in the final as we will have the full squad," he said.

"This Indian team is not as good as the last time (in 2007). They are less active, not running much and lack fighting spirit," he added.

Ebrahim also knows the threat that may come from Bhutia tomorrow, saying, "Our defenders will be much more intense as India will play Bhutia."

For the Delhi crowd though it will be the match they are waiting for -- a game between full strength Indian and Syrian sides.

Enthusiasm of the fans has been even more than 2007. Two years back, fans turned up only from midway the tournament.

But this time, starting from the opening match between India and Lebanon, the fans have turned up to near capacity at in all the four matches involving the home team.

They are expected to fill the floodlit Ambedkar Stadium to the brim on Monday as they had done on August 29, 2007, and a late monsoon rain could be the only dampener in what promises to be a high-intensity game.