x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

'Trepidation' for India coach as Bhutia still unfit

India's captain and their most experienced and influential player will almost certainly miss their opening Asian Cup match against Australia and possibly the entire tournament.

DOHA //Baichung Bhutia, India's captain and their most experienced and influential player, will almost certainly miss their opening Asian Cup match against Australia and possibly the entire tournament, according to coach Bobby Houghton.

The 34-year-old striker had hoped to end his career at Asia's top international tournament but his recurring calf injury looks like denying him the chance.

"He has not recovered from his injury, and has not played for a year, so he won't be match-fit. But if we could get 30 minutes out of him, or 45 minutes … that's what he means to us," Houghton, an Englishman, said about the player capped 102 times for India.

"He might never be match-fit again, but we are trying everything we can. Just to have him in the dressing room, having his influence, it means that much to us."

Houghton said the mood of his side remains good. "We are generally upbeat," he said. "It's the first time for nearly 30 years that India has qualified for the Asian Cup, but we are in a tough group with three of the top five teams in Asia - Australia, South Korea and Bahrain."

Bhutia is one of the few Indian players to have overseas experience after playing for Bury in England's lower divisions between 1999 and 2002. Asked how he was approaching the opener against Australia tomorrow, Houghton replied: "With trepidation, I suppose."