Hyderabad:Former national coach Syed Nayeemuddin and yesteryear star Mohammed Habib on Saturday slammed Bob Houghton for not starting with the best available eleven in India's crucial group match against defending champions Tajikistan, which ended in a draw on Friday.
Houghton left out four key players from the starting line up for the crucial match to give them rest in view of the tight schedule and drafted in inexperienced players Sushil Kumar and Baljeet Singh (Jr).
The Englishman, however, had to bring in captain Baichung Bhutia, N P Pradeep and Surkumar Singh in the second session after India trailed 0-1 against the defending champions to eventually draw the match 1-1.
India will now have to win against Turkmenistan in their last Group A match tomorrow to make it to the semifinals.
Habib, who was part of the bronze medal winning team in the 1970 Bangkok Asian Games, said he failed to understand why Houghton did not first think of ensuring a semifinal berth and go for a win by starting with the best eleven available.
"I don't know what is the rationale behind his decision to rest the key players from the match. It was a crucial match and he should have started with the first eleven.
"Had we lost the match we would have been in a precarious situation to qualify for the semifinals," Habib, a Hyderabadi but spent his professional football career in Kolkata, said.
"You first secure your semifinal place and then think of giving chance to the bench players. That is the way I look at it," he added.
Habib wondered how the Englishman thought of resting Baichung in the crucial match, saying had India wanted to win the match (against Tajikistan) the Sikkimese' taking the field was necessary.
"He is the key man upfront, without him Indian forward line is toothless," said the former Mohammedan Sporting coach.
India's only Dronacharya awardee coach Syed Nayeemuddin had a similar view.
"I don't want to be too critical of what Houghton is doing at this stage of the tournament but obviously in such a crucial match he should have fielded the best players," Nayeemuddin said from Kolkata.
"Obviously, a win against Tajikistan would have ensured a semifinal place and I think Houghton should have fielded the first eleven and go for the lead and see later in the match that the key players could be substituted out.
"He would have the chance to rest the key players and tried the bench after winning against Tajikistan," reasoned Nayeemuddin who was sacked as India coach in 2006 after a string of poor performances by the national team in the Asian Cup qualifiers under his charge.
Nayeemuddin, however, felt that India still has the wherewithal to beat Turkmenistan tomorrow and top the group.
"India are playing at home and they were in fine fettle just before the tournament having toured Portugal for a training-cum-competition. So, I fancy our chances against Turkmenistan and even go on to win the tournament," he said.
Mohammed Habib was also hopeful that after the Nehru Cup win last year and now playing at home, India can win the tournament.
"I think India has got a real chance to win the tournament. They have the home advantage and it is not that the other teams are much better than them," he said.