New Delhi: Promising striker Mohammed Rafi got the axe as India today announced a 23-member squad, to be captained by Bhaichung Bhutia, for the Asian Cup football tournament starting on January 7 in Doha, Qatar.
Apart from the omission of the Churchill Brothers striker, selection was on expected lines as there was not much option left after injury hit several key players during the nearly two-month long camp in Dubai since early November.
Rafi, who was named the best player of 2009-10 I-League, was laid low for a while due to injury in October, before the Indian players left for Dubai, but later played in the international friendly matches last month.
Bhutia himself is yet to fully recover from the right leg calf muscle injury and sports medicine expert from Chennai, Kannan Pugazendhi, is now in Dubai to treat the skipper.
Out of the eight players left out of the squad from the 31 who were in the camp, three -- Dempo left back Sameer Naik, Churchill Brothers goalkeeper Arindam Bhattacharya and Dempo winger Anthony Pereira -- are injured.
The other five left out players were Churchill Brothers striker Rafi, midfielder James Lukram and defender N Mohanraj -- both from Mohun Bagan, East Bengal striker Baljit Sahni and JCT midfielder Jagpreet Singh.
AIFF XI goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu who was called to the camp after injury to Bhattacharya, was retained.
The Indian team will reach Doha on January 6 and will play Australia in their Group C opening match on January 10. India`s next match will be against Bahrain on January 14 while they take on South Korea on January 18.
Meanwhile, Raul Carmo Fernandez, the managing director of Gulf International Promotions, has been appointed manager of the Indian team for the Asian Cup in place of Pradip Chowdhury who had returned home after a tiff with coach Bob Houghton.
"As Pradip Choudhury is not returning to Dubai and subsequently will not travel to Doha with the Indian senior team, Raul Carmo Fernandes has been appointed manager of Indian team for AFC Asian Cup. Raul has been working with the team on various operational fronts for the past couple of years and more specifically in the past two months during the camp in Dubai," an AIFF release said.
AIFF vice-president Subrata Dutta will accompany the team as the Chef-de-Mission while executive committee member, Larsing Ming, will be the head of delegation for the Asian Cup.
Goalkeepers: Subrata Pal, Subhasish Roy Choudhury, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu
Defenders: Surkumar Singh, Gouramangi Singh, Anwar, Mahesh Gawli, Syed Rahim Nabi, Deepak Mondal, N S Manju, Rakesh Masih and Govin Singh
Midfielders: Steven Dias, N P Pradeep, Climax Lawrence, Clifford Miranda, Renedy Singh, Mehrajuddin Wadoo, Baldeep Singh.
Strikers: Bhaichung Bhutia (Capt.), Sunil Chhetri, Abhishek Yadav and Sushil Kumar Singh.