2011 India’s AFC Asian Cup Experience

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Growing up as a football fan during the 2000s especially as an Indian football fan, there was very little to cheer for. Every football fan in this country has grown up hearing stories about the golden era of Indian football during the late 50s and early 60s which culminated in Indian defeating South Korea to win the gold in 1962 Asian Games and finishing 4th in the 1964 AFC Asian Cup, India’s best performance in the tournament till date. And then for almost 3 decades Indian football plummeted to the depths of despair. With the turn of the century, the national football side experienced a change of fortune. Under then-coach, Sukhwinder Singh India were competitive during the 2002 World Cup first-round qualifications that saw the side beat UAE and Brunei and drew with Yemen. India was unlucky as they finished a point adrift and failed to move on to the next round of qualifiers. Constantine was replaced by Syed Nayeemuddin, an Indian footballing legend during his playing days. He had a disastrous stint as the head coach as India were drubbed by the likes of Japan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen during the 2007 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers. Nayeemuddin was relieved of his duties and another Englishman in Bob Houghton was brought in 2006 to change India’s footballing fortunes.

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Under Houghton, India developed a footballing philosophy of keeping their defence tight and relying on the long the ball to unlock the opponent’s defence and it proved effective as India enjoyed some much-needed success as a footballing nation. The Nehru Cup was resumed in 2007 and under Bob Houghton’s stewardship the hosts went on to beat Syria 1-0 at a jam-packed Ambedkar Stadium in the final to end a 45-year wait for silverware. And the following year things got even better for the Indian side and the fans. India hosted the 2008 AFC Challenge Cup with the winner of the tournament directly qualifying for the 2011 AFC Asian Cup. India topped their group that consisted of Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Afghanistan and met Myanmar in the semi-finals. A 1-0 over them ensured a showdown in Delhi with Tajikistan for the coveted Asian Cup spot. India had played out a 1-1 draw with the same opponent during the group stages but on 13th August 2008, India simply was the better side as they beat Tajikistan 4-1 in the final and returned to the AFC Asian Cup after 27 years.

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The 2011 AFC Asian Cup held in Qatar saw India being drawn into the group of death in Group C, along with Australia, South Korea and Bahrain. The daunting tasks of facing Australia and South Korea who had represented the Asian contingent in the 2010 World Cup, with the latter even progressing to the Round of 16 and the former narrowly missing out on it on goal difference. India’s was up against the eventual runners-up of the tournament in their first game of the tournament. Then 2011 Australian side consisted of the likes of Schwarzer, Jedinak, Kewell and Cahill. It was always going to take a herculean effort to even manage a draw against the Aussies and 3 goals in the first from Cahill, Kewell and Holman ensured it wasn’t going to be a fairy tale return for India to the Asian Championships. A better all-around display in the second half from the Indian team didn’t help their cause much as Cahill grabbed a fourth and put the game to death. India next faced Bahrain and what was a very open game of football saw India lose 5-2 as Gouramangi Singh and Sunil Chhetri got their names on the scoresheet. India’s last group stage game was against the mighty South Koreans and even though India ended losing the game 4-1, which saw Chhetri bag his second goal in the tournament, Subrata Paul was dubbed the Indian Spiderman whose brilliant display under the sticks earned him accolades from the Asian football fraternity.

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In our recent episode of DIL SE FOOTBALL, we had Mr Renedy Singh and Mr Arunava Chaudhuri grace us and they spoke on various aspects of Indian Football. This was the 6th episode of our series which happens every Saturday on our youtube channel Techtro – IFTWC. Renedy Singh who was integral to Bob Houghton and his haul in transforming Indian football featured in every game during the 2011 AFC Asian Cup. Renedy who has retired from football, but his love for the game hasn’t allowed him to stay away from it. Having played in Indian leagues for various clubs in more than 250 games, he has also gone on to represent India in a Blue Tigers shirt in 72 matches in the International stage. Now working as a football pundit he also runs his football academy.

On asked about his experience during the 2011 Asian Cup, a highlight moment of his career, Renedy had to say the following during our interaction on DIL SE FOOTBALL: “It was the best experience ever. I started playing for the National Team in 1992 and from then I have played almost all the matches as a started and I have seen everything in Indian football. Like the changing phase of Indian football. If you observe we ran around 13-14 km in every match in the 2011 Asian Cup but that doesn’t matter, what matters is how good are we tactically.”

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