Hyderabad:With players' injury worries diminishing gradually, an upbeat national football coach Bob Houghton on Tuesday said India are all geared up for their opening match against Afghanistan AFC Challenge Cup with here Wednesday.
Houghton said he was happy that except for two players -- Steven Dias and Mahesh Gawli -- all others were match-fit and raring to go.
"The AFC Challenge Cup tournament is very important for India, because this kind of tournament will help improve Indian football. Also because by winning this we will directly qualify for the 2011 Asian Cup. We are looking forward to play our best and win the tournament," he said at a press conference.
"During the SAFF Cup we had six key players in the injury list but now I am happy that except for Gawli and Steven all have recovered and this is good news for us," he added.
Houghton disclosed that reserve goalkeeper Arindam Bhattacharya and young striker Tarif Ahmed will not be named in the squad of 23 who will be registered for the eight-nation tournament, the second tier inter-nation competition of the continent.
Earlier, six players -- N S Manju, Sandip Nandi, Kuttimani, Manjit Singh, Rakesh Masih and Denzil Franco -- were left out of the original squad of 31 who attended the national camp in preparation of this tournament.
Central defender Gawli and nippy winger Dias will miss Wednesday's match against Afghanistan and in what could be a concern for the Indian team rock-solid Gawli could even miss the group matches.
"Gawli and Dias will for sure miss the first match. I hope Steven would be fit for the second match against Tajikistan on August 1. Gawli may not be fit for that match or may be the last group match against Turkmenistan. But, I think he should be fit by the semifinals," the home team chief coach said.
"I know including Mahesh in the squad is a risk but he is an important member of the squad and since he should be fit during the course of the tournament we cannot leave him out," he added.
The 60-year-old Englishman conceded that it was not "an ideal situation" with his key players getting injured in the run up to the important tournament starting from the SAFF Cup in Sri Lanka and Maldives last month.
"Surkumar Singh has not played much football. If fit in the second match, Steven would be playing for the first time after the second match in SAFF Cup, Renedy and Ajayan have just recovered and Deepak Mondal has not played much football.
"It is not an ideal situation but this can happen in international teams," he said trying to allay fears that the situation could be like SAFF Cup in which several top players.
The former Fulham midfielder was also critical of the AFC match schedule for the tournament and said this has been a concern.
Houghton was not sure of a good crowd would turn up at the Gachibowli stadium to cheer their national players like that in the Nehru Cup triumph in New Delhi in August last.