Doha, Jan 9 (IANS) I-League top scorer Mohammad Rafi Sunday replaced Sushil Singh in the 23-member Indian squad on the the eve of its opening game against Australia in the AFC Asian Cup football tournament.
Rafi, who was a stand-by for injured captain Bhaichung Bhutia, was included in the side as Sushil won’t be available for the first two matches against Australia and Bahrain (Jan 14) due to a two-match suspension slapped on him by the disciplinary committee of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).
The team management was unaware of Sushil’s two-match suspension and was informed of it Saturday by the tournament committee. Sushil was suspended after he was red carded for elbowing a North Korean player during the AFC Challenge Cup in Sri Lanka last February.
Coach Bob Houghton admitted that missing Sushil will be big blow. Bhutia also won’t be able to feature in the first match as he is still struggling with his calf muscle injury.
“Sushil is in fine form and missing him will be a big blow for the team. He has been replaced by Mohammad Rafi. We also hope Bhaichung gets fit for the next two matches against Bahrain and South Korea,” he said.
A top team official told IANS that Bhutia is highly doubtful for next two matches, but his presence in the dressing room will be huge.
“Though Bhutia has played for just 30 minutes in the last 18 months, his influence in the dressing room is huge,” the official said
Bhutia was dropped from the squad and accomodated as a technical official but was
re-registered as a player Friday.