New Delhi:The Nehru Cup, which kicks of on Friday with India taking on Cambodia in the opener will be more than a stiff international competition for the hosts.
The Nehru Cup used to be a well-known international football fixture in India till 1997 before the tournament died out for a decade because of lack of sponsors and interest.
However, its now been revived with a prize money of $100,000. And though the highest ranked team that has turned up is Syria at 113 in the FIFA rankings, it promisies to be a great exposure for the Indian team, which slumped to a lowest ever of 165 earlier this year.
Bob Houghton's boys, who went through a rigorous training camp will be looking to shake off the loser's tag and take the first small steps towards the tedious climb up the rankings.
"This is the first time we felt like a team. Every player knows his job. We all know what to do," said the Indian captain Bhaichung Bhutia.
The Indian captain was in a buoyant mood on the eve of the ONGC Nehru Cup. Not just him but also the entire team has donned a new confident look.
And Coach Bob Houghton's tactics seem to be bearing fruit as India, which ranked a lowly 162, returned unbeaten from the tour of Portugal, where they finished with two wins and two draws.
But Houghton was also witness to India's 7-1 and 3-0 thrashings at the hands of Saudi Arabia and Japan at the AFC Asian Cup qualifiers last year. The new coach is well aware that the upcoming tournament won't be a cakewalk.
"It will be a very tough tournament to win," said the coach.
Though none of these teams have ever qualified for the World Cup finals, it will be a hard-fought competition.
Syria, ranked 113th are the favourites, while Cambodia and Bangladesh, ranked 170th and 172nd respectively are probably the two teams that India have a realistic chance of beating,
Though the ONGC Nehru Cup is not a high profile competition - featuring the likes of Syria, Cambodia, Kyrgystan and Bangladesh, apart from India - it is an excellent oppurtunity for the Indian team to put to the test everything they have learnt under Bob Houghton and find out how tough they have become after the recently concluded training camp, both physically and mentally.