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India evolved as a competitive side in Asia: Bhutia

Last Updated: Tuesday, August 25, 2009 - 18:46

New Delhi: With India winning the Nehru Cup
and AFC Challenge Cup in the last two years, captain Bhaichung
Bhutia said the national team has evolved as a competitive
side in the Asian circuit and feels now it would be tough for
continent`s top football playing nations to beat his men.

Bhutia does not consider to straightaway beat Korea or
Japan, but said these countries will now find India a
difficult side to beat as it had improved a lot under coach
Bob Houghton in the last few years.

"We have improved a lot under Houghton and other Asian
countries will find it tough to beat us now. I am not saying
that we will now beat Japan or Korea but we will be
competitive with them," said Bhutia, who played in his 100th
international match, on Sunday.

The national skipper also defended All India Football
Federation`s decision to invite countries mostly below 100 in
the FIFA rankings for the Nehru Cup.

"The choice of the teams in the Nehru Cup was important.
If I happened to play in the Nehru Cup 20 years back and if
India were beaten by Argentina or Russia 0-6, 0-7 I would not
learn anything. So we have to go step by step," Bhutia said.

He said the fortunes of the national team has changed a
lot but the set-up of the game in the country remained

"A lot of changes have occurred since Bob Houghton has
taken over. This last three years under Houghton we have
played as a team and have been consistent as a team. Obviously
we have not won all the matches. We have lost matches but that
is part of the game and that is how you learn," Bhutia said.

"But our system is outdated. It is still like that of the
1950s. For example even if I sign a two or three year contract
with Mohun Bagan or East Bengal I have to register for just
one year with the Indian Football Association (West Bengal
state association). You have to change all these," added the
`Sikkimese Sniper`.

Bhutia, who himself is the president of Football Players`
Association of India, said a lot of players suffer as there
was no uniformity in the contractual obligation of the clubs
vis-a-vis the players.

"FPAI has presented a universal model contract to the
AIFF to make the contract provisions same for all players and
clubs. The idea is to make the contract an equal bargain for
the clubs as well as the players.”

"I know players who suffer due to dispute with their
clubs and delay in taking decisions by the state associations
and the AIFF. Syed Rahim Nabi did not get pay for some months
and Mama did not get pay for a year," he said.

Talking about the ongoing Nehru Cup at Ambedkar Stadium,
Bhutia said Syria are the favourites to win the title.

"Syria are the favourites and I feel this team is
stronger than the side in 2007. It is no wonder that they have
seven players from the team which beat China in January.”

"But we also have done well as a team in the last two
months. We played well in Barcelona against strong sides
though they are third division sides. We have kept our shape
and form well and we have been consistent," he said.

Asked about his partnership with Sunil Chhetri, the
32-year-old striker said the best thing about the duo was
their "natural understanding".

"For the last few years my strike partnership with
Chhetri has been productive. The understanding between us is
very good. We have a very natural understanding as strike
partners that is very important," he said.

Among the youngsters who are in the India camp, Bhutia
picked JCT midfielder Jagpreet Singh as the player to watch
out for.

"Jagpreet looks to me to have a very good future. I came
to know of him only this month at the India camp but he is a
very talented player."

Bureau Report

First Published: Tuesday, August 25, 2009 - 18:46
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