India play Thailand in international friendly, Bhutia doubtful

Bangkok: Fresh from a two-month training tour of Portugal, India take on Thailand in their first international match in one year here tomorrow but captain Bhaichung Bhutia is a doubtful starter due to his recent bout with illness.

India last played an international match in the final of
Nehru Cup last year in August against Syria so tomorrow`s
friendly against Thailand at the Yamaha Stadium would be their
first in more than a year.

It will also be first international game for India in the
build-up to the next January`s Asian Cup in Qatar.

Bhutia`s likely absence, as he is apparently not yet
fully fit after suffering from a reoccurring thyroid problem,
will be a cause of worry for India who are to take on the same
opponents four days later at New Delhi`s Ambedkar Stadium.

The `Sikkimese Sniper` was sent home midway in the tour
due to the same problem and he did not play in any of India`s
10 practice matches against Portuguese lower division sides.

"Bhutia had some problems. Though he took part in
training he was not playing much. So the coach (Bob Houghton)
will decide whether he will play tomorrow or not," team
manager Pradip Chowdhury said.

"The players have recovered from the jet lag after a long
flight. The boys are confident of doing well tomorrow. After
all we will get points for FIFA ranking if we win," he said.

It will be interesting to see who wears the captain`s
armband tomorrow. The seniormost after Bhutia has not been in
the starting line-up for some time while the same is the case
for Mahesh Gawli and Deepak Mondal.

This could leave Houghton naming Central midfielder
Climax Lawrence to lead the side unless he does away with the
seniority criterion and hands the leadership to striker Sunil

Bhutia`s likely absence will give Churchill Brothers
striker Mohammed Rafi a chance to play his first international
match and Houghton is likely to start with Chhetri.

Both Rafi and Chhetri, who joined the training camp in
Portugal after being released from Major League Soccer side
Kansas City Wizards, have been among the goals in Portugal and
are in full fitness condition.

Of the other two strikers Sushil Kumar and Abhishek
Yadav, the latter suffered an injury during the Portugal tour
and it is known whether he will be fit for tomorrow`s match.

Subrata Pal, who played most of the practice matches in
Portugal, is certain to man the goal while Houghton is
expected to start with Surkumar Singh, Anwar Ali, Gouramangi
Singh and N S Manju with option to bring in Gawli and Mondal

Climax was indisposed early in the Portugal tour but he
is expected to start tomorrow along with N P Pradeep at the
centre of the park.