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Houghton's Olympic dreams ready to kick-off

December 23, 2008 18:13 IST

Having achieved his task of putting India back on the radar of Asian football, national coach Bob Houghton has now set sights on the qualifiers of the 2012 London Olympics, set to kick-off in 2010.

'Bob the Builder' has already identified some potential players and is hopeful that the I-League will throw up some more promising youngsters for the Olympic team.

"The Olympic probables are going to gather for a camp in July and we now have a whole lot of players to chose from," Houghton said on the sidelines of the All India Football Federation's Annual General Meeting, in Delhi on Tuesday.

"Players like Bineesh Balan (Churchill Brothers), N Mohan Raj (Mohun Bagan), Nirmal Chettri (East Bengal), Agnelo Colaco (Vasco) have been impressive and with the under-19 team doing well in recent years, we have a larger pool to pick players from," said the Englishman, who is now based in South Africa.

He has also lined up 11 friendlies in the next two years to groom his players.

"We will be playing on FIFA dates and some good competition will always be welcome," said Houghton, who guided India to the AFC Challenge Cup triumph that gave the country a passport to the 2011 Asian Cup, a tournament they last played 24 years back.

Reiterating his target, Houghton said, "Right now we are in the top-20 in Asia but we have to be within the top-16."

The top-16 teams get easy draw in the qualifiers of the World Cup and Olympic Games.

And the coach, who guided unheralded Swedish club Malmo to the European Cup final in 1979, said India did have a chance of making it to the second round of qualifiers in both the 2014 World Cup and the 2012 London Olympics.

"But, realistically speaking, the focus should be the 2018 World Cup. By the time the qualifiers for that tournament starts the under-16 boys will be 22, the under-19s will be 25 and the Olympic side will be 28. If we keep moving in the right direction then we will have a good bunch of players to chose from.

"And, most importantly, they will all be playing in the national league, which will do them a world of good," said Houghton, adding that in his early days, he had only a list to pick players from.

He once again came down heavily on the state leagues and tournaments like the Durand Cup, IFA Shield and the Santosh Trophy.

"These tournaments only retard the growth of Indian football. Our focus should be on the I-League and the Federation Cup. The state leagues should be used to groom junior players, like Goa has started doing this time around, hosting I-League in weekends and their own league in mid-week where national players have been kept out," said Houghton, who

felt Mohun Bagan had done the right thing in deciding to give the IFA Shield the miss.

But Houghton, who became one of the youngest managers in the English league when he took over Hanstings United in early 1970s, also conceded that economics plays a big part in teams like Mohun Bagan.

The 61-year-old, who had a second hip surgery this January and said he is feeling 'young' now, rated JCT central defender Julius Akpele as one of the best foreigners in this I-League.

He has also included five JCT players in the national camp and felt coach Sukhwinder Singh is doing a very good job.

But despite Sporting Clube de Goa leading the I-League table after the end of the first phase, Houghton is not too impressed.

"I will be surprised if they win the league," said the coach, who feels Dempo, with their bunch of quality players who have played and preyed together for some years now, getting the best.

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