Houghton seeks Asian Cup 'watershed'
India coach Bob Houghton says he hopes his side's participation at the AFC Asian Cup will be a watershed for the development of football in the vast but underachieving country.
Despite football's huge popularity in India, this is their first appearance at the continental showpiece since 1984, having secured qualification for the current tournament in Qatar by winning the AFC Challenge Cup in 2008.
Houghton, a well-travelled Englishman, has been in the job since 2006 and believes that successful performances on the international stage are the key to safeguarding India's football future.
"We hope that the Asian Cup will be a watershed for Indian football," said Houghton, whose team lost 4-0 to Australia in their Group C opener and tackle Bahrain in their second game on Friday. "We hope the fact we've got here will make people sit up and realise how great it is to be here, in a continental tournament.
"The fact we're here and people are watching us - apparently the game tomorrow (against Bahrain) is sold out - shows that, if we can make football good in India, we can get interest from people there. The next tournament starts in June, with the qualifiers for the World Cup, so that's the next thing on the horizon. But we're realistic and we're thinking a bit further down the road before we can think about qualifying for a World Cup."
India's efforts to become a force on the world stage have long been hampered by a poor footballing infrastructure in the cricket-mad country. Houghton used the example of midfielder Renedy Singh, who accompanied him to today's pre-match press conference, to highlight the glaring shortfalls in India's approach to the game.
"I've got a group of players here, such as Renedy: he's played for many years in India, is a very good footballer and he has got to where he is despite playing in a country with no infrastructure, no development and very poor coaches, but here he is playing in the Asian Cup," said Houghton. "It's remarkable that he's got here, given what he's had at his disposal.
"When he was playing for the under-19s and he played against Japan, he didn't think the difference between the two sides was that great, but five years later, when he played them in the Asian Cup, the difference was huge. That's to do with the quality of the J-League and the facilities in Japan. And in India, players like Renedy have been let down by their federation."
Singh echoed his coach's views but said the Englishman's impact had given the players in the national squad reason to feel hopeful about the future. "What the coach said, it's really true," said the 31-year-old. "We have no infrastructure. It's so hard to break through. But over the last three or four years, we've been going in the right direction and if he's here for a longer period we will improve and we can only improve."