Youngsters will have to step up, fill Bhutia`s shoes: Houghton

New Delhi: With national football captain
Bhaichung Bhutia no longer young and grappling with injuries,
chief coach Bob Houghton today said the youngsters in the team
will have to step up and fill the talismanic striker`s place.

The 33-year-old Bhaichung suffered a reccuring thyroid
problem while in Portugal for the Indian team`s two-month
training stint as part of preparations for next year`s Asian
Cup and did not play a single practice match there.

Houghton said Bhaichung will take some more time to be
match fit but made it clear that he will play a role in the
AFC Asian Cup to be held in Doha, Qatar in January next year.

"We played 10 practice games in five weeks in Portugal
and Bhaichung did not play any of them as he had some thyroid
problem, a reccuring one. He had lost weight due to the
problem. He is back for training but is not match fit still,"
Houghton said at the pre-match press conference ahead of
India`s second international friendly against Thailand here

Asked if Bhaichung can be match fit for India`s third
home match against Gambia here on September 19, Houghton said,
"We have to see. He will take some time to be match fit. But
surely he will play a role in the AFC Asian Cup in January."

"We miss him. He has been a big influence in the side for
so long. He is an exemplary player. But he is going to finish
some day. It is difficult to accept. But his absence will give
young players a chance to do well for the country.”

"Besides Sunil Chhetri and Mohammed Rafi who played in
Bangkok we have three other forwards in Abhishek Yadav, Sushil
Kumar Singh, Baljit Singh Sahni. They will have to step up and
perform," Houghton said.

The experienced Englishman was satisfied with the
performance of his boys in their 0-1 loss in Bangkok
considering that they were playing their first international
match after a long two-month tour of Portugal.

"It was not easy. We had injuries in Portugal though we
were lucky not to have a major one. We had small injuries to
some players. It was not easy to play an international match
after a lot of travelling. The ground was heavy due to the
monsoon there," he said.

"But we played a good game in Bangkok and we are looking
forward to tomorrow`s match. Thailand are an improving side
under a very good coach Bryan Robson, one of the best players
of the world in his time. They want to play in the Asian Cup
regularly and are aiming to qualify for the World Cup," said
the India coach.

Asked about midfielders Climax Lawrence, who will captain
the side tomorrow, and Steven Dias, Houghton said, "Steven was
not playing any match since middle of July and Climax was
playing in Bangkok for the first time in six weeks after an
ankle problem. It is possible that they may not play the whole
90 minutes tomorrow (just like in Bangkok)."

He said senior player Renedy Singh, who played as a
central midfielder in Portugal instead of his preferred left
wing position and who came in place of Climax in Bangkok, will
not play tomorrow due to a hamstring problem.

Houghton said the Indian team has improved a lot in the
last few years and they have become resilient.

"The important improvement has been the team has become
resilient. We lost to Lebanon in the first match of the Nehru
Cup 2009 and people started saying that what was the
improvement after spending lots of money by training in
Barcelona. But we went on to win the title," he said.

Houghton also informed that India will play two
international matches in Pune next month.

"We are playing against Namibia on September 15 and
against Gambia on September 19 at Ambedkar Stadium. After that
we play two international friendlies on October 9 and 12 in
Pune. We have to decide on two countries out of Vietnam, Yemen
and Iraq," he said.

"After that the boys will go home and in November and
December we will be based in a Gulf country most likely in
Dubai or Qatar before the Asian Cup," he said.