Injuries hit India before Asian qualifier

Updated: 25 February 2007 10:38 IST

Injuries to key players threaten to dampen India's chances in their crucial qualifying match against Yemen for the 2007 Asian Cup football championship.

New Delhi:

Injuries to key players threaten to dampen India's chances in their crucial qualifying match against Yemen for the 2007 Asian Cup football championship. India go into the game with replacements in all the crucial areas of the pitch with seven of their first choice players unlikely to take the field. "Several of our players who were instrumental in India winning the SAFF Cup in Karachi in December will be unable to play tomorrow," team manager P K Banerjee told reporters. The latest setback came in the form of defender N S Manju sustaining a lower abdomen muscle injury. Shanmugam Venkatesh, Mahesh Gawli, M Suresh, Alvito D'Cunha, Climax Lawrence and K Ajayan are already on the injured list which makes the job tougher for coach Syed Nayeemuddin. Mahesh Gawli has a stress problem in the ankle. Venkatesh has a knee injury while Ajayan has a tear in his cruciate ligament. "We have replacements for these players but they are not of the same level as the first choice players," Banerjee said. "Number one is always better than number two. That's why they are preferred." "The match is important but we cannot take chances with a player's whole career," Banerjee said. Second rung team Nayeem emphasised on the brighter side saying it was a chance for the second rung to show what they were made of. India went down 0-6 to defending champions Japan in the first qualifying match in Yokohama while Yemen lost 0-4 to Saudi Arabia at home. However, the coach and manager hinted that some of these injuries could be of a less serious nature and could have been played with had the player so wanted. "In our times, we constantly used to play with niggles because the coach told us to. But these days, things are different," Banerjee said. "Players come up with medical certificates which advice rest and one cannot go against medical opinion," he said. Players overstrained Attributing the recent spate of injuries to overstrain during the National Football League, the former India captain said "it was not possible to stay in peak physical condition for long." Describing Yemen, placed 21 spots below India in the FIFA rankings at number 139, as "strong opponents," Nayeem, however, stressed that the team would be going for a victory on the morrow. But he admitted that the think tank had very little idea of the team from the Middle East and its key players. Yemen coach Ahmed Al Raee claimed that the 20 players at his disposal for the match were fully fit and prepared for the match. The two teams had played twice in 2001 with both matches ending in draws. (PTI)

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