India will come back stronger in next Asian Cup: Houghton

Doha, Jan 18 (PTI) India ended their Asian Cup campaignafter losing all their three matches but coach Bob Houghtontoday vowed the country will come back stronger in the nextedition in 2015 having gained rich experience after playing inthe continent''s biggest stage for the first time in 27 years.

India were playing in the Asian Cup for the first timeafter 1984 and though they were at the receiving end againstformidable sides Australia, South Korea besides Bahrain here,Houghton hoped the country''s football standard will rise afterparticipating in the showpiece event.

"It was a tough tournament, playing three matches ineight days that too against top sides like Australia and SouthKorea. We have played our best, the boys fought till the endin all the three matches. We can return home with our headsheld high.

"The boys have gained a rich experience from thecompetition. So I think we will come back stronger and givebetter performances against the likes of Australia and SouthKorea in the next Asian Cup," Houghton said after his sidelost 1-4 to title contenders South Korea in the last Group Cmatch here.

"When the Asian Cup draw was made a few months ago,everybody said it would be a disastrous campaign for us havingclubbed against Australia, South Korea and Bahrain. It did nothappen and so we have given a good account of ourselves.

"We have a chance to qualify for the next Asian Cup inAustralia as well as the winners of the 2011 and 2013 AFCChallenge Cup will get automatic qualification and we hope towin one of the two," he said.

The 63-year-old Englishman said he was happy that captainBhaichung Bhutia got some time in today''s match against SouthKorea.

"This boy is a great servant of Indian football. He hasplayed more than 100 international matches for the country inhis more than 16 years of career. He is liked by all histeam-mates and a big influence on the team. It would have beena shame if he had not played in the Asian Cup. I am happy forhim," said Houghton.

Bhutia, who came in the 78th minute in place of AbhishekYadav today, expressed happiness to have at least played hispart in the Asian Cup though for just 15 minutes.

"Asian Cup is the biggest stage in my career and I amhappy that I have played in it even if it was 15-20 minutes.

Overall, it has been a great experience for us to have playedagainst the big teams like Australia and South Korea.

"We have given a good account of ourselves. We playedvery well in the second half in all the three matches thoughwe have given too much respect to our opponents in the firsthalves," said Bhaichung who had not played for five monthsbefore today due to a calf muscle injury.

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