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Once a prominent force in the continent and the country which “taught football to Asia” according to Asian Football Confederation (AFC) president Mohamed Bin Hammam, is nowhere close to its glory years.

Having qualified once for the 1950 World Cup by default as some of the other nations had pulled out, India withdrew following the draw as FIFA had banned playing barefoot.

India have won the Asian Games twice in 1951 and 1962 and also finished fourth in the 1956 Olympics where they famously beat Australia 4-2 which is amongst their greatest results ever.

The present state of football in the country is far from being called professional and with non-existent grassroot level programmes, the second most populated country’s talent is being wasted with zero accountability.

How They Qualified

Being the hosts of the AFC Challenge Cup 2008, India automatically qualified for the tournament where the emerging nations of the continent are given an opportunity to win the Cup and thereby find themselves in the company of Asia’s elite at the subsequent Asian Cup.

Grouped alongside Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Afghanistan in Group A, India started their campaign with an injury time winner over the Afghans and thereby winning the final game against Turkmenistan 2-1 before sharing the spoils against the Tajik.

The semi-finals pitched India against the most impressive side in the tournament in Myanmar and an 82nd minute goal by Sunil Chhetri ensured a place in the finals where the Tajik challenge awaited.

With the venue being shifted to their favourite Ambedkar Stadium, Delhi due to incessant rains in Hyderabad, India romped to a 4-1 victory and thus booked a place in the Asian Cup 2011 in what was a certainly a notable achievement. Bhaichung Bhutia, the Indian icon, won the Most Valuable Player award for his performance throughout the tournament.


Coach & Tactics

Bob Houghton is best known for guiding Malmo FC into the European Cup final in 1979 and could have been one of the youngest coaches to have won the trophy. The former coach of China resorts to winning the second ball tactic with a lot of emphasis being given to players who can stand and deliver crosses than the skillful and pacy ones. He has been criticized for playing some unknown Portuguese and Spanish club sides on tours and his away track record, as with most coaches in India, has been very poor. However, he has to be credited for guiding India to win the three trophies between 2007 and 2009 but the Asian Cup 2011 would certainly be a test of a different kind which even he has acknowledged.

Star Player

Subrata Paul is a player of a different class and in a league of his own. He has been the most consistent performer for the last four years or so and has won the hearts of the fans with his confident display in the penalty shootout in 2009 Nehru Cup finals. His shot stopping abilities coupled with an aptitude to inspire his team-mates with his own performances has seen him rise in stature tremendously.

Fans’ Expectations

With some insipid results in the course of the last few months, the performance of the national team has left a lot to be desired especially given the enormous money spent in their preparations and expensive foreign tours.

The supporters certainly don’t expect India to win against the likes of Australia and South Korea but do anticipate a similar gumption as shown by Korea DPR against Brazil at the 2010 World Cup. A draw against Bahrain would certainly be the ultimate cherry on the cake!

Goal.com Prediction

One need not be a seer or a pious soul to envisage the outcome of India’s Asian Cup 2011 campaign. Being drawn against some of the strongest sides in the continent and to still have the belief that the 142nd ranked nation shall progress into the next round, the person would certainly have to be an eternal optimist! An early exit is very much on the cards for Bob Houghton’s boys and that can be substantiated with the fact that the scribes from this part of the world have booked their return flights from Qatar following India’s last group game against South Korea!

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