The predicament facing the Indian football team ahead of the exposure trip to Portugal is that it is dogged by too many injuries, ranging from minor aches to more serious ones.
Even as Bob Houghton's wards trooped into the Ambedkar Stadium on Wednesday for their first training session after being dethroned by the Maldives as SAAF Cup champions, the focus was on the number of injured players in the squad.
While defenders NS Manju and Surkumar Singh are down with hamstring injuries — Surkumar missed the plane to Male because of the injury — Rennedy Singh's thigh muscle continues to trouble him and Steven Dias, who suffered an ankle injury during the SAAF Cup, is yet to recover.
Gourmangi Singh had to be rested because of fever on the opening day that missed 10 players.
Even though Sandip Nandy and K Ajayan were present, they did not take part in the training session. Mahesh Gawli and Samir Naik were also amongst the regulars conspicuous by their absence.
"Injuries haven't helped our cause, but that's part of the game and we have to accept it," said Houghton. "What's worrying is that Steven's (Dias) injury is serious and is likely to take some time to heal," he added.
While the national coach attributed the SAAF Cup loss partly to the cramped schedule, what's worrying now is that his team's fixtures in the AFC Challenge Cup after the Portugal sojourn are somewhat similar. "We play on the 30th (July), 1st (August) and 3rd.
The schedule is too compressed and it's not fair to have international sides play three games in five days. It gets too taxing on them," said the Briton.
That he will be able to field a 23-member squad in the AFC meet was the only pleasing news Houghton could offer amidst the gloom.
"It was 20 during the SAAF Cup but we will be able to field 23 in the AFC Challenge and that is good as it gives us more options," said Houghton.
In between the Portugal trip and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) meet in Hyderabad, India will also play a warm-up match against Malaysia on July 22.
While a lot has been written on the exclusion of those players who performed well in the Santosh Trophy that concluded recently in Srinagar, Houghton was left fuming when reminded about the tournament. "Get real man. Get that I-League sorted out instead of thinking about the Santosh Trophy," he ranted.
"I watched a Santosh Trophy match two years back in Gurgaon and my goodness, it was one of the worst matches I have seen in my career."
Of the four matches during the Portugal trip, the 27-member squad is likely to play three games "against opponents we played last year".
"An official confirmation on the teams is awaited," Houghton said.
The euphoria around India’s Nehru Cup triumph last year seems to be wearing off amidst the team’s unimpressive showing in the recent past and it would take some effort from Houghton’s wards to stem the slide.