Houghton exudes confidence

Syria jumped into FIFA’s top 100 after some good performances recently including defeating China and drawing Korea, and Houghton had no hesitation in calling the West Asians the favourites to win the five-nation tournament at Ambedkar Stadium.

“India played very few international matches. Syria did the reverse. They played quite a few international matches and did well in them to jump up the FIFA chart. They will start as the favourites by virtue of their rankings,” Houghton told reporters at the announcement of draw of the tournament.

“That does not bother us because we will be satisfied if we prepare to our best and perform to our potential. I cannot say we will win the tournament but we are comfortable that the other teams would consider us as the team to beat,” he said.

Houghton said FIFA rankings in case of India, and to some extent other Asian countries, are deceptive and do not portray the real quality of teams. “It is not difficult for European countries to play 10 international friendlies against their neighbours. It is not so in a large continent like Asia. You can’t go to Singapore, Japan and then travel to West Asia in a short time,” he said.

“That is why for us Nehru Cup has become such an important tournament to rise in FIFA rankings. It has become a lifeline for us,” he added.

Houghton said all the four other participating teams are good sides and he expects a successful tournament. “Lebanon are a good team, they beat us 4-1 in the World Cup qualifiers last year. They are low in FIFA rankings because of their political situation. They do not get to play international matches at home. “Sri Lanka are a competitive team and it was not easy against them in the last SAFF Cup. Central Asian teams (Kyrgyzstan) are also strong and we knew that in the last edition,” he said.  Houghton sidestepped a query whether he would consider a change of plan in the ‘2011 Goal Project’ now that the AIFF has got Rs 25 crore from the cash-rich Indian Cricket Board.

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