Saturday, August 22, 2009

Bhaichung Bhutia set to earn his 100th international cap

New Delhi, Aug 22 (IANS) From the sleepy village of Tinkitam in Sikkim to leading the national football team, Bhaichung Bhutia has come a long way and is all set to earn his 100th international cap when India plays Kyrgyzstan in the ONGC Nehru Cup here Sunday.

The 32-year-old Bhaichung will earn the rare distinction in the same tournament where he made his debut in 1995 against Thailand, coming in as a replacement for his idol I.M.Vijayan.

“It is a great honour to play the 100th match for my country. The fact that I will reach the landmark in a tournament where I made by debut, makes it all the more special. It still feels as if I am playing my first international match,” Bhaichung said on the eve of the match.

The Indian captain burst onto the scene in the 1992 Subroto Cup and by the next year had signed up for East Bengal. He was 16 at that time.

Having played for both East Bengal and Mohun Bagan, Bhaichung became the first Indian to play for an overseas club, spending three years at Bury in England from 1999 to 2002.

He came back and joined Mohun Bagan, but after an unsuccessful season shifted to East Bengal. One of the high points in his career came when East Bengal became the first Indian club to win an international title, the ASEAN Cup, in 2003.

Bhaichung touched another peak when he led the national team to the AFC Challenge Cup victory at the Ambedkar Stadium last year. With the win, India also qualified for the 2011 Asian Cup after 24 years.

“I know, I can never play the World Cup, so representing India in the Asian Cup would be the biggest moment of my career. The AFC Challenge title was a major win for us in any Asian tournament after a long time,” he said.
There is no stopping Bhaichung, who has more than 50 international goals to his name.

“It is very important for us to retain the Nehru Cup title. It will be a big motivation for the young boys. The next year will be crucial for us,” he said.