Houghton wants Bhaichung to reach peak fitness by November

With just five months to go for the 2011 Asian Cup in Doha, national football team coach Bob Houghton wants skipper Bhaichung Bhutia to reach peak fitness by November.

Last Updated: Sep 14, 2010, 16:39 PM IST

New Delhi: With just five months to go for
the 2011 Asian Cup in Doha, national football team coach Bob
Houghton wants skipper Bhaichung Bhutia to reach peak fitness
by November.

Bhutia, still recovering from his recurring thyroid
related problems, is undoubtedly the team`s most important
member and his partnership with Sunil Chhetri upfront will be
crucial to India`s chances in Doha.

"The team will be in Dubai in November and we have to
ensure that Bhaichung reaches peak fitness by that time,"
Houghton told reporters here today.

Bhutia replaced Mohammad Rafi on the 70th minute and
played the remainder of the match during India`s 1-2 defeat to
Thailand at the Ambedkar Stadium last week, and Houghton has a
similar plan for tomorrow`s match against Namibia.

"Bhaichung will come in the later stages of the game
tomorrow," the Briton said.

138th-ranked India, who lost twice in two weeks to
Thailand, would look to recover lost ground by winning against
the African side, placed 23 rungs above the hosts on FIFA
chart.

Asked about tomorrow`s clash against Namibia, Houghton
said, "We don`t know their game, they don`t know ours, they
will play their way and we will play ours."

Though it`s his first visit to the country, Namibia coach
Tom Saintfiet seemed to know a thing or two about Indian
football.

"You have a professional league with good teams like
Dempo, Churchill Brothers, East Bengal and Mohun Bagan," said
Saintfiet, associated with the team for the past 27 months.

Asked about the Indian team, the Belgian said that one
has to be good to qualify for a tournament like Asian Cup,
adding that India should not lose heart despite being clubbed
with Asia`s best sides.

"India are the underdogs and it`s good to be grouped with
Australia, South Korea as chances of causing an upset are
always there," Saintfiet said.

Unlike India, who had a two-month training camp in
Portugal, Namibia players have not trained together since
March.

"Since playing our last official international match in
March, we haven`t played a single match," Saintfiet, who has
brought a team mostly consisting of Namibian league players,
said.

"Four players are playing in Europe and there is one in
Angola and another in South Africa. Our most famous players --
Carl Benjamin -- plays in the German league," Saintfiet said.

"Most of our home based players haven`t played a single
match for the last four months but our biggest fear is that we
are not physically ready," Saintfiet added.

PTI