Beirut:Riding high on confidence after the Nehru Cup triumph in August, the Indian football team is ready to take on Lebanon in the first round of the Asian qualifiers for the 2010 FIFA World Cup on Monday.
The Nehru Cup was a huge boost for India as it catapulted them to 145 in the FIFA rankings from a dismal 162. Lebanon is ranked 144.
Indian coach Bob Houghton was upbeat about his team's ability going by the unified spirit shown by the lot.
"The boys are in good spirit and I think we have had the best preparation, taking in a tough friendly in the bargain," the coach said told Dubai daily Gulf News.
The 22-member Indian team spent 10 days in Dubai, playing a friendly against Dubai's Al Nasr Club.
All the players who suffered injuries during the friendly are back in shape with the exception of Tarif Ahmad Shaikh, who is still nursing a sore ankle.
Two players - goalkeeper Sandip Nandy and striker Abhishek Yadav - were sent home due to injuries in the same match.
"Injuries are very much part of the game. We still have a few minor ones in bits and pieces, but all the players should be ready for the qualifier," Houghton said.
"One can never gamble in football. Our focus is to play well and give a good account of what we are capable of as a team," added the Indian coach.
"We have to bear in mind that these qualifiers are in two legs, and Monday's match is only the first half. We will still have to play at home against Lebanon," Houghton said.
The return leg would be played in Chennai October 28.
The Englishman stated that he had watched Lebanon's matches on video tape from the West Asian Games earlier this year.
"Luckily, we watched them play against Syria (who won 1-0) and that is to our advantage," Houghton remarked. India defeated Syria 1-0 in the Nehru Cup final.
"But this is a completely different game. It will be a brand new game on Monday," Houghton said. "Even a draw away from home is considered a good result."
The change in mindset of the Indian players under Houghton is quite evident.
Never before had the team looked like an attacking outfit. And that perhaps would be India's key against Lebanon.
Houghton is likely to once again depend on team captain Bhaichung Bhutia and young Sunil Chhetri in attack. Bhutia has been in sublime form and the veteran coach feels the striker is at the peak of his career.
Chhetri hasn't been that impressive and his profligacy has cost the team on numerous occasions but the Delhi striker has the ability to score goals from very difficult angles and that makes him a preferred partner for Bhutia.
The midfield has also been performing well with wingers Steven Dias and Renedy Singh operating efficiently.
The flanks were one of the main factors behind India's success in the Nehru Cup and Dias with his precise crosses kept on feeding the Indian strikers.
NP Pradeep and Climax Lawrence were impressive in the middle and Ajayan Nair and Cliffrod Miranda came on as substitutes but proved equal to the task.
All the midfielders have proven goal-scoring abilities, adding to the available firepower against the Lebanese.
The defence, however, seems to be a matter of worry as India will miss the services of reliable Dipak Mondal, who injured his knee during the Nehru Cup.
But the presence of Mahesh Gawli, NS Manju, Surkumar Singh and the talented Gourmangi Singh will be a challenge for the Lebanese strikers.