Pune: As part of their preparation for the 2011 Doha Asian Cup, Indian football team will take on higher ranked Vietnam in an international friendly to be played at the Balewadi sports complex here on Thursday.
The solitary goal loss to Hong Kong in the match played earlier this week has raised few questions about India`s ability to finish.
Against Vietnam, ranked eight places higher than Hong Kong at 125, India continue their battle with fitness to key players that make up their core composition ahead of the Asian Cup in January.
"There is no point risking players in friendly matches if they have not recovered completely as it will only hamper our preparations," said national coach Houghton.
Houghton`s statement means that strikers Bhaichung Bhutia, Mohd Rafi and defenders Mahesh Gawali and Sameer Naik continue to be out of the reckoning for selection.
In fact Bhutia, according to the coach, will sit out the next match against Yemen as well.
"The break after Vietnam and Yemen will do all good," Houghton added.
Against Vietnam, India are expected to hand midfielder Baldeep Singh his first senior international assignment.
"It will be nice to see him perform with a fullstart," opined Houghton, who said that Baldeep will fill in Mehrajuddin Wadoo`s place alongside Climax Lawrence.
Likewise, Houghton is hoping to field medios NP Pradeep and Steven Dias for a minimum of 20 minutes during the match since they are recovering and need to get match fit.
"They are not totally match-fit, but since they form the nucleus of the squad they need to play and slowly get back to their peak," explained the coach.
Upfront there is no change with Sunil Chhetri and Abhishek Yadav being first choice, with Sushil Kumar Singh, who had a nightmare game against Hong Kong when he missed an open sitter, sitting on the bench.
Likewise, the back four Surkumar Singh, Anwar, Gourmangi Singh and Rahim Nabi will remain unchanged.
As far as Vietman was concerned, Houghton felt, "We know that they are in a good opposition. Vietnam for many years now has been a good football nation. I remember once when I was in Vietnam, the city was closed down for 48 hours when they won."
"They have had some good results recently, beating Thailand twice, in Bangkok and Hanoi, recently," Houghton reminded.
Vietnam who trooped into the city on Tuesday, had an afternoon practice session on Wednesday, with coach Calisto Henrique Manuel Dasilva eager to play well on their first visit to India.
Having begun their preparation for the season in September, Vietnam has played a friendly against North Korea, before contesting in their premier knock-out tournament Suzuki Cup where they took on the Australia and Kuwait Under-23 sides.
Dasilva opined, "We know that India has developed a lot since last year. They play very tough and fighting football and have some good players. It is very important for us play a different team from our region."
Clear in his objectives, Dasilva is of the opinion that playing well is very important for the progress of any team.
"For me if a team plays well they ought to win, but winning by playing bad is a result that does not hold good for the future of any team."
Dasilvas observations are based on the simple need that he expects his boys to deliver against India and that is "consistency all through 90 minutes of the game."