India prepares for SAFF Championships

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='' class='caption'> There's a new coach, plenty of new faces and renewed optimism as the Indian football team heads for the SAFF Championships in Karachi early next month.

Updated: February 25, 2007 10:53 IST
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New Delhi:

There's a new coach, plenty of new faces and renewed optimism as the Indian football team heads for the South Asian Football Federation Championships (SAFF) in Karachi early next month. The SAFF Championships is coach Syed Nayeemuddin's first major tournament in charge, having taken over the reins, after a string of poor performances by the team. "It will take a longer time, and they have to work harder. It takes much less time to bring the Brazilians, the Americans into shape. But if we have to bring this lot at the same level as even the Koreans, then they must be prepared to spend extra time on the training field," said Nayeemuddin. Focus on strikers The SAFF Championships will be the national team's third foreign trip after the two three-match series in Pakistan and Fiji. Both proved dismal for the side, which lost mainly due to the lack of firepower up front. Former coach Stephen Constantine's assertion that there are no genuine strikers in the country other than Bhaichung Bhutiya and Vijayan is explained by the Sikkim star, but trashed by the new coach, who says it's all about grooming youngsters properly. "So many people say so many things. He has spoilt so many youngsters. I used to give Bhaichung the number 15 jersey and compare him to Baggio, but he - what he has done? Bhaichung did nothing great after 1998. I do not want to use that lovely English word, but how else to describe him?" said Nayeemuddin. Bhaichung maintains that strikers, especially the youngsters, hardly get a chance with clubs going in for foreign strikers. "The problem with club football is that all the clubs are importing foreign strikers, so it's quite difficult for the youngsters, especially the budding strikers, to get a chance," said Bhaichung. Both Bhaichung and Nayeem were also non-committal about the possibility of Bhaichung returning to the squad as the skipper. What the coach is more concerned about at the moment is addressing the problem of why the youngsters fail to repeat some outstanding performances in the junior and grade levels, at the international stage.

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