Awarding World Cup to India could lead to investment: Houghton

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Philem Dipak Singh

Doha, Jan 12 (PTI) India coach Bob Houghton today saidthat FIFA chief Sepp Blatter''s suggestion that it should hostthe World Cup after 2026 could be a good idea as it would"force development of football infrastructure" in the country.

In an interview to PTI, Houghton reiterated hiswell-documented stance on the acute lack of footballinfrastructure in India but said if FIFA awards the World Cup,it would lead to "investment" in the game.

"I don''t know when India can be ready to host the WorldCup. Infrastructure is the problem but I think you can arguethat awarding the World Cup could be a good idea as it couldforce development of football infrastructure in the country.

That may lead to investment in infrastructure. But beyond thatI don''t know," said Houghton ahead of India''s second Asian Cupmatch against Bahrain here on Friday.

Blatter had identified India as a potential candidate tohost the World Cup ater Qatar was awarded the 2022 edition inFIFA''s bid to find a new market and extend football frontiers.

"If we have to identify new territories where footballcan be a better part of life then definitely it is thesub-continent, India, where they have 1.2 billion people,"Blatter had said.

Houghton said India can start with small size stadiumslike the Ambedkar in New Delhi and think of hosting the AsianCup in near future.

"India can start with small stadiums like Ambedkar andthe 13,500-capacity Al Saad Stadium here where India playedAustralia. The national team can play international friendliesat these stadiums and if you have four-five of them you canhost tournaments," he said.

When reminded about the issue of his contract extension,the 63-year-old Englishman denied that he had hinted onquitting if India suffered drubbings at the hands of theiropponents in the ongoing Asian Cup, and made it clear that hewould continue after the continental showpiece.

"I had not said I would quit. I had only said that wewere focussing on the Asian Cup and the other things will comelater on. That was the totality of what I said," saidHoughton.

"I will take a break for two-three weeks in South Africaafter the Asian Cup and plan the football programme for theyear. There is an AFC Challenge Cup qualifying roundtournament in March and then there are the 2014 World Cupqualifying round matches," said Houghton whose contract withthe AIFF runs till 2013. .

The widely travelled Houghton said that the acute lack of infrastructure has been hampering in restructuring theI-League to conform with international calendar so that thecountry can play more international friendly matches.

"My suggestion for some time has been that we should have38-week I-League season that is nine and half months. You need23 weeks to play all the I-League matches and you can haveeight weekend FIFA days when there would not be I-Leaguematches and which can be used for the national team to playinternational friendlies.

"In the remaining six-seven weeks, AFC matches (AFC Cupmatches for the clubs) could be held," he said.

"The problem is the non-availability of stadiums. AlbertoColaco (former AIFF general secretary) used to say he can''thave a calendar like that as he even does not know theavailability of stadiums. If a cricket one-day internationalmatch is going to be held in Margao, you will not get theground for three months and all the I-League matches will haveto be squeezed in the next month," rued Houghton.

Since Independence, India have played less than 30international friendlies and that is reflected in thecountry''s position -- 142 -- in FIFA rankings. And Houghtonsaid nothing much can be changed until the I-League calendaris set right.

"You cannot get countries to play internationalfriendlies in short notice. Say for example, you want to play10 international matches starting July next year you will notget opponents. You need to plan out 24 months in advance.

"If a country says OK to play against us then we have tooffer a FIFA day. There are 11 or 12 FIFA days when the clubswill have to release players for national duty. All theleagues in other countries stop on these FIFA days except forours. You can''t ask other countries to play on non FIFA dayswhen their leagues are on. So we need to set our calendarright," said Houghton who has been national coach of China andUzbekistan.

"The reason behind all these is there are very fewstadiums. If you have five or six good football specificstadiums we can organise I-League according to internationalcalendar. The broadcasters who are going to buy rights totelecast matches will not come as they won''t know when thematches are going to be held," he said.

Asked why India suffered heavy defeats against Kuwait andUAE in the build-up to the Asian Cup, Houghton said, "It wasridiculous to play three matches -- against Iraq, Kuwait andUAE -- in seven days and many of the players were just comingback from injury. Those were very tough times but it was notdifficult to motivate the players from the setback." PTI PDSAH

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