The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Habeebís boys on a mission
- Lodging facility in Delhi annoys Mohammedan Sporting coach

New Delhi: Mohammedan Sporting arrived in Delhi on Monday, looking to overcome the final hurdle in their campaign to break into the premier division of the National Football League. But their first day in the capital was marred by complaints over accommodation and food.

The Calcutta team, which makes up the renowned triad, but has never been able to shake off the second division bug in the NFL, are here to participate in the final round, from April 23-29. There are four contenders in this, the second divisionís last set of engagements, for the two slots in the premier division. Apart from Mohammedan Sporting, Air India, State Bank of Travancore (SBT) and Haywards Sporting of Goa are in the fray.

On their first day in Delhi, the Calcutta outfitís coach, Mohammed Habeeb, was livid at the accommodation given to his squad. Apparently, club officials had arranged the accommodation without consulting the coach. As a result, the twenty players were allotted two large dormitories, a move resented by the players who wanted more privacy. However, the players had their way after all and were given rooms at the same venue.

Apart from the living arrangements, the cuisine ótraditional Bengali fare ó didnít quite enthuse the four foreigners, Grey, Nigerian Habib Adekunle and the Ghanaian duo of Awal Ibrahim and Ishao Yaro.

With the entire first day spent in sorting out these problems the squad had no practice.

The diminutive coach was also spoke about some of the problems on his hands. He lamented the absence of nippy midfielder Bhuvan Chandra Joshi, a junior international, injured in the previous round at Jamshedpur and unavailable for the three round robin league matches in Delhi. Another midfielder, Amit Das is also unavailable due to injury. Habib said Joshiís thrusts on the left and his work-rate would be missed. In their absence, the coach is banking on Arunava Sarkar, Khemtang Paite and Liberian recruit Eugene Grey to control the midfield.

Coming to Mohammedanís opponents. Haywards have a lethal attack and their burly Nigerian strikers Dudu Omagbemi and Amaechi Tochukwe are in good nick. Dudu, who was on loan to Salgaocar earlier this season, has scored a hat-trick in the ongoing NFL.

Another prized recruit is central midfielder Bungo Singh, also on loan from Salgaocar. A junior international, Bungo was chosen for the Asian All Stars team after the final rounds of the Asian junior meet in Qatar in November 2002.

The Mohammedan coach is also wary of SBT, who play very attacking football. They are spearheaded by internationals T. Asif Saheer, S. Ignatius and M.A. Abdul Hakeem. In midfield they have under-23 international K. Ajayan, a member of the Indian team which won the LG Cup in Vietnam in August 2002. In defence, the Travancore team have an exciting prospect in Vinu Jose who represented India in the recent pre-Olympic qualifiers against Turkmenistan.

The third team, Mumbaiís Air India, coached by Bimal Ghosh have played in the NFL four times in the past. The team has a mix of ageing ex-internationals and young players.

Goalkeeper Mohammed Yousuf, winger Godfrey Pereira and defender Noushad Moosa have played for India in the past. Promising junior players are striker Suprith Jathanna and midfielders Vijith Shetty and Syed Altafuddin.

A panel of seven supervising officials, including two from Delhi have been appointed by the All India Football Federation (AIFF).

The panel includes K. Sankar of Tamil Nadu, the first Indian to officiate in the World Cup in Korea -Japan in 2002.

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