A friendly warm-up

N. P. Pradeep (second from left) netted two goals in the second match in Chennai. In Goa, earlier, he had scored one goal.-R. RAGU N. P. Pradeep (second from left) netted two goals in the second match in Chennai. In Goa, earlier, he had scored one goal.

Ahead of the SAFF Cup, the Indian team had a couple of practice matches against Chinese Taipei. Over to K. Keerthivasan.

During the practice session on the eve of the second friendly match against Chinese Taipei in Chennai, the Indian football team coach Bob Houghton appeared livid. When his request for a portable goalpost was met with a negative response, he could not accept it. In a country with several insurmountable sporting problems — part administrative and part on-field — it’s not easy to maintain one’s calm and remain optimistic, more so for a foreigner. Hough ton has done exactly that. He has faced all problems with courage and commitment. In his two years in the saddle, Houghton has let the administrators know what needs to be done to get India out of the mess that it’s currently in. Most important, he has got the best out of the players, earning their respect, love and affection. Though a lot of work is left to be done, the chief coach has been working to a plan diligently, the heavy odds notwithstanding.

Houghton’s cup of woe continues to overflow. With the team’s failure to qualify for the 2010 World Cup debated and dissected, the Indian team is earnestly focussing on the new season. To prepare for the South Asian Football Federation Cup in Maldives and Colombo from June 3 to 14, the All India Football Federation arranged two friendlies with Chinese Taipei, ranked 19 places below the host. Though India won 3-0 in Goa and drew 2-2 in Chennai, the contests certainly showed the marked strides made by the visitor rather than the higher ranked host.

At temperatures hovering around 40 degree centigrade in Goa, Chinese Taipei felt the heat from the sun more than the Indian players. Acclimatising better to the weather conditions, India recorded a 3-0 win. The Chinese did not succumb easily, holding the Indians at bay throughout the first half. N. P. Pradeep (1) and Sunil Chetri’s brace in the second session enabled India to win the first friendly match.

“We have come here after completing our league. This (against India) is our first international match. We have a long way to go,” said Lee Po-Houng, Chinese Taipei’s chief coach.

The Nehru Stadium in Chennai, described as one of the best for football, though Houghton will disagree, had only a few hundred spectators for the second friendly held under floodlights. The crowd certainly would have left the venue unhappy after witnessing India’s performance.

The Chinese Taipei players had spring in their feet and fire in their belly and their display was well above expectations. “Their defence was good,” admitted midfielder Pradeep, whose brace saved India the blushes.

For India, retaining the SAFF Cup will be high on the agenda. Whatever the opposition, a victory could usher in hope for the new season, which will be long and arduous.

THE RESULTS

In Goa: India 3 (N. P. Pradeep, Sunil Chetri 2) bt Chinese Taipei 0;

In Chennai: India 2 (N. P. Pradeep 2) drew with Chinese Taipei 2 (Chen Po-Liang, Hsieh Meng-Hsuan).