Indian Football Fans

Asian Cup preview: India

Asian Cup appearances: 2

Best result: Runners-up 1964

Coach: Bobby Houghton. The Englishman has enjoyed modest success with India, guiding them to two Nehru Cup wins, both against Syria, and the AFC Challenge Cup in 2008 which gifted them qualification for this Asian Cup. Houghton has had a long career as a coach - most notably with Swedish outfit Malmo, whom he led to three domestic titles and the European Cup final in 1979. Malmo are still the only Swedish side to get that far. A close friend of Roy Hodgson, he is credited as being widely responsible for the emergence of Sweden into a modern football powerhouse. It will take far longer to do something similar with India.

Key players: Baichung Bhutia may not be world famous, but he is India’s most recognisable star having played three seasons with English lower-league club Bury in the late 90s. Now 34, he is the captain and inspiration to all Indian football fans. This will be his last hurrah. Sunil Chhetri is the only other India player with overseas experience. He plays for Sporting Kansas City in the MLS. Houghton has been trying without success to get Cardiff City striker Michael Chopra to throw his lot in with India due to his heritage.

Strengths: No-one expects them to even get a point in this group. Anything other than three hammerings will be seen as success, so they’ve nothing to lose. The exposure of being back on the regional stage for the first time in 27 years may help rejuvenate football in India, especially as the nation's richest man is making noises about investing in the domestic championship. India is a potential football powerhouse but it is miles behind everyone at this tournament.

Weaknesses:  Qualification came courtesy of coming through the AFC Challenge Cup, in which they had to overcome football heavyweights such as Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Myanmar and Turkmenistan. When defending the trophy earlier this year, India lost all three games and finished bottom of the group. Make no mistake; this Indian national side is one of the weakest teams ever to play at an Asian Cup - think Malaysia four years ago, only worse. India also have a host of injuries - Bhutia and Chhetri are not 100 per cent fit, and their recent friendly results (including a 9-1 belting at the hands of Kuwait) are bad omens for what lies ahead.

Summary: India have spent months preparing for this tournament, and will need it. If they suffer heavy defeats, it will remind AFC that dishing out free tickets for their flagship tournament only serve to demean the event. 

Did you know ... Australia played India at the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne - India won 4-2, and then proved it was no fluke by hammering them 7-1 in a friendly organised two weeks later.

Prospects: Home before the postcards.

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