NEW DELHI: Bob Houghton is a man of few words, for he firmly believes in action. He made no tall claims when he took over the job but has effectively moulded the team into a confident unit from the time he took over in June 2006.
In the space of a week, India has jumped 11 places in the FIFA rankings, moving up to 151 from 162, thanks to the 6-0 rout of Cambodia and 1-0 win over Bangladesh in the ongoing ONGC Nehru Cup football tournament here.
“Discipline is paramount,” says Houghton as he drills home the importance of aggressive football to this young team led by the mercurial Bhutia.
Creating space is the key to India’s tactical approach under Houghton and the progress can be seen in the overall improvement of the team in the two matches here, not to forget the encouraging tour to Portugal where the team did not lose in any of the four matches.
Of course, Houghton can be slightly handicapped when he looks at the bench. This is one area where the replacements have been found wanting.
A few changes are on the cards for India’s crucial encounter against Syria on Thursday. Syria is ranked 113 and has looked a very compact combination in the tournament thus far.
A victory against Syria cannot be beyond India’s reach but the pressure increases in the face of injuries to some key members. Deepak Mondal makes way for Gourmangi Singh while Clifford Mirinda comes in for an off-colour Renedy Singh.
The warm news comes from the recover of N.P. Pradeep, who missed the last match against Bangladesh, in place of Mehrajuddin Wadoo.
Much will depend on Bhutia and Sunil Chettri’s ability to motivate the team and forge a partnership that could make an impression.
The fact remains that Syria has appeared the better side and only a highly disciplined performance by Bhutia and his men can improve the team’s chances of a place in the final.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, Bangladesh drew 1-1 with Cambodia in a match of little consequence. The first draw of the tournament helped the teams earn their first point.
Bangladesh took the lead in the 31st minute when Abul Hussain headed in a corner by Alfaz Ahmed. But minutes before the end, Cambodia levelled through Sam El Nasa.