India might have been beaten 4-0 by Australia at the AFC Asian Cup but coach Bob Houghton said it was all part of a significant learning curve for his inexperiened team in their quest to improve.
It has taken India 27 years to qualify for their third Asian Cup and they did well to restrict the Socceroos to just four goals. The 142nd-ranked team were outclassed but not disgraced. Houghton applauded his gallant side. "We played a very good team. It's not by fortune that Australia are the number one team in Asia. They're very good and a team with enormous experience," said the well-travelled Englishman.
"They were playing against a team that is emerging at this level so it was a difficult game for us but I thought our boys stuck to their task very well. We kept our shape, we kept our discipline, we kept going and I thought we were a little bit unlucky. I'm pleased with our boys and I think they'll improve from it and learn from it."
He said their confidence would grow ahead of their remaining Group C matches against Bahrain and Korea Republic. "They watch these guys in the Premiership every weekend and today they're thinking: 'We're not that far away - yes, they're better than us but we can compete with them.'
"Nobody likes to lose 4-0, that's for sure, but all in all it was a good experience for us. You can be proud of that performance if you were in my position today."
India are in Qatar courtesy of winning the eight-nation AFC Challenge Cup as hosts in 2008 - a tournament of lower-tier Asian teams. The Qatar experience is their first outing at the Asian Cup since 1984, where they failed to make any impact, in contrast to their maiden appearance in 1964 when they finished runners-up.
Houghton is hopeful a reasonable tournament will help raise the profile of the game in a country lacking the infrastructure and finances to move forward. "The vehicle that will move Indian football forward is the national team. When the national team becomes successful, I think the interest in football will follow it," he said.
"I hope that the fact that we've managed to get to the Asian Cup for the first time in nearly 30 years will encourage the government and the federation to spend money on training facilities. In India we don't have it and you can't produce players if you have no facilities. You can't do it."
India's next match sees them take on Bahrain on Friday.