Sukhwinder Singh, India's Asian Games football coach, does his best to stay away from controversies and Sunday was no different. It wasn't surprising that he managed a smile even when asked about senior India coach Bob Houghton's decision not to spare players from the Asian Cup squad for the Games.
"I want to be away from all that. He (Houghton) is preparing his team for the Asian Cup, which is a big event (India have qualified for the first time after 1984). He knows best what to do," Singh said here.
Another team official not wishing to be identified because of the sensitive nature of the issue though said Houghton's decision came as a surprise. "All along, Bob kept telling the (All India Football Federation) that he would spare a few players from the 38 Asian Cup probables for the Games, but at the last camp, he declined.
"Players like Arindam, Govin Singh, Mohan Raj, Rakesh Masih, Jagpreet, Baldeep Singh, Baljeet Sahni and Sushil Singh, some of whom were part of the victorious SAFF Cup campaign last December, could have been assets here," the official said. But Singh stayed away from all that because India have made it to the last 16 of the Games after 28 years and ahead of Tuesday's match against powerhouses Japan, he didn't want anything that would disturb team morale. He even refused to comment on the Guangzhou Asian Games Organising Committee's decision to decline India's request for a second goalkeeper after Laxmikant Kattimani's injury against Qatar in the group league.
"We would have liked Arindam Bhattacharya (now training with the senior team in Dubai) here. The Games rules state that no changes can be made 24 hours prior to the start of the competition," he said.
Singh is confident about India doing well in the pre-quarterfinal. The boys have produced a commendable show against Qatar and Kuwait. Against Singapore, we could have scored at least three more goals.
"Japan are a superior team. But India will not be overawed. The boys have played two big matches and now they know how to take on superior teams. Moreover, I don't think, in modern football, anyone is an underdog if you play to a plan," said Singh, under whom JCT won their only National League title, in 1996.