New Delhi, Aug 29 (UNI) Expressing his satisfaction over India's win in the inaguaral AFC Challenge Cup to book a place in the 2011 Asia cup after 24 years, national football coach Bob Houghtan stated that these victories will marked a revival of footballing fortunes in the country.
''I'm very satisfied with the team's performance, and their success has sparked a lot of excitement and passion for football across the country,'' the former China and Uzbekistan coach told FIFA.com in an interview. ''Football in India has also made a giant leap forward at club level, with the first professional Indian League beginning this year.'' Under coach Houghton, the Indians took the AFC Cup tournament by storm, sweeping past the likes of Turkmenistan and Myanmar to reach the final, in which they sensationally thrashed Tajikistan 4-1.
Houghton, whose coaching career has spanned 30 years and ten different countries, the time he has spent with India since he took over in 2006 will always remain a cherished memory.
''I've had two very happy years with India,'' the 60-year-old reflected. ''During this period, the team has played a total of 23 games and we've only lost three. In the process, we won the Nehru Cup in 2007, as well as this Challenge Cup victory.'' Houghton also asserted that during his two-year tenure, the team has undergone a swift and seamless transition.
''At the very beginning I made many changes to the team, but now we have a relatively stable first eleven,'' he commented.
''Quite a few young talents have broken into the senior side, while the experienced players also have key roles.'' However, impressed by the players performance Houghton also strongly encouraged them to move to Europe.
''When I coached China in 1998, they had no overseas-based players - they simply didn't believe in themselves. But after the team's encouraging results, like the win over Japan in the EAFF Championship, some top players, like Fan Zhiyi and Sun Jihai, made high-profile transfers to European clubs.'' ''We have a host of talented players like Sunil Chetri, who has the potential to earn a move to Europe,'' he said, singling out the 24-year-old ace striker, who scored a hat-trick against Tajikistan in the AFC Challenge Cup final. ''We must make the Indian people believe their players can make it.'' Houghton also stated that the AFC Cup triumph is only a small step on the way.
''Qualifying for the Asian Cup is only our first goal, and next we'll see about booking a place at the 2018 World Cup,'' he said.
Meanwhile, Houghtan's current contract will expires in June next year, but he assrerted that he is keen to continue for a second tenure.
''My contract expires at the end of this year, but both the AIFF and I are keen to extend it,'' he explained. ''I'm aiming to develop a new generation that will make India proud in Asian competition in the years to come.'' All India Football Federation (AIFF) president Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi had already announce that that Houghton's current contract will be extended at least till 2011 AFC Asian Cup in Doha and the coach reciprocated by setting new goals for Indian football.
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