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India faces tough opener against Bangladesh

NEW DELHI, MARCH 26. Three-time football champion India faces a daunting task when it takes on Bangladesh, winner in the last edition of the event in 1999, in their first Group A encounter in the SAF Games at Islamabad on Sunday.

Clubbed with Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan in group A, India would face stiff challenges from both Bangladesh and host Pakistan, feels coach Alok Mukherjee.

Meanwhile, after Bhutan's withdrawal, Group B has been left with Nepal, Sri Lanka and Maldives. Two teams from each group would make it to the semifinals.

The Indian team would, however, put up a good show in Pakistan, the coach said prior to leaving for Pakistan today.

Talking to pressmen, Mukherjee said, ``height of the players might be a disadvantage for us but the boys can make it up with their skills.''

With the team comprising mostly Tata Football Academy (TFA) boys, Mukherjee said, "they have played together and have a good understanding. Besides this is a young team of under-20 boys and we are hopeful of delivering.''

He, however, rued the fact that he did not have more than a week's time to spend with the boys.

The Indian team also had only a faint idea about the rivals, he admitted.

India had won the football event in 1985, 1990 and 1995. Incidentally, Mukherjee was the vice-captain of the Indian side that won the event in 1985.

The Indian team has made one change, drafting in goalkeeper Amit Nandi from Bengal in place of Machindra Singh (Punjab), who tested positive for a banned substance.

In its next group assignments, India will meet Pakistan on March 30 and take on Afghanistan on April 1.

The team: Amit Nandy and Subhasish Roy Chowdhury (goalkeeper); Manju Shivananju, Warandeep, Subhash Mandal, Gurpreet Singh and Rahaman Mandal (defender); Malswama, Jerry Jirsangha, Debabrata Roy, Babin Biswas, Gouramangi Singh and K. Sampat Kumar (midfielder); S. Mariangki, Vanlal Rova, Pariar Vimal, Malsawmtulunga, N. P. Pradeep, Sunil Chhetri (forwards); Alok Mukherjee (coach); Satheevan Balan (assistant coach). — UNI

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