The Indian football team has not played a single international match after the AFC Challenge Cup triumph last August but captain Bhaichung Bhutia expects a number of games after the I-League finishes.
Coach Bob Houghton had said after the AFC Challenge Cup that India will play at least 10 internationals but with the season almost half-way through only one friendly — on January 14 against Hong Kong — is being scheduled.
Bhaichung hoped that India would play more international matches before they defend their title in Nehru Cup likely to be held in August this year.
“I can’t say why there have not been more international matches. Bob (Houghton) and All India Football Federation (AIFF) must have plans in place. I expect more international matches after the I-League (which will end in March) and before the Nehru Cup,” Bhaichung said from Goa.
The ‘Sikkimese Sniper’ was though upbeat that India will play against Hong Kong,a team ranked higher at 125th as against India’s 144 in FIFA chart.
“We have been playing against teams lower or identical to our rank. It is a right step to go up the ladder and start playing against better and higher ranked teams.
“We know Bob (Houghton) thinks of interest of India’s football and I think he would go for more such matches.”
Bhaichung,who injured himself during the Federation Cup in Kolkata last December and did not play in the final match which his side Mohun Bagan won,will be missing most of the nine-day national camp which started on January 2 but said there was no reason to worry.
“I am yet to take part in proper team training. The team doctor is looking after me and I will start normal training in another two or three days. Till now it is just some light workout,” Bhutia said.
This means Bhaichung,who was named AIFF’s Player of Year 2008,will resume normal training in the last two or three days before the team departs for Hong Kong on January 12.
Asked about India missing the bus for the 2009 AFC Champions League,Bhaichung said the AIFF will have to put pressure on those I-League sides which are yet to fulfil the AFC criteria so that India can have a club when the next review of the pro-league is done.
“India missed to send a team there but nothing can be done now. The only thing is that the AIFF will have to apply pressure on the clubs which are yet to fulfil the criteria,” he said.
The India captain said he had sought a date with the AIFF senior vice-president and acting president Praful Patel to discuss some matters pertaining to players’ grievances.
“We have sought time to discuss matters on the grievances of players. Patel has agreed to it. The seniors and juniors of the team will have a meeting with him though the date has not been fixed,” he said.
Meanwhile,right full back Surkumar Singh is yet to recover from the injury he sustained during the Federation Cup.
Surkumar,who has not taken part in normal training till now,said he was hopeful of making the trip to Hong Kong.
“I am just doing some light training under the team doctor. But I am hopeful of making it to the Hong Kong squad,” he said.