Australia's Asian Cup Opponents: India

Australia are favourites to progress in the tournament but they must defeat India first up

India is a country more famous for its cricket but aside from this football is big and it-s growing. There is a huge interest in football and in West Bengal, Goa, Kerala and the entire North-East India, it-s the first sport. However, it-s participation and main interest is mostly amongst school goers where it-s becoming more and more popular.

India have struggled in more recent years so they-ve not been seen on the big stage internationally. It-s been over 25 years since they-ve qualified for the AFC Asian Cup so they-ll be eager to show that they-re good enough to be at the top tournaments again.

Looking back in history, they-ve faired reasonably well in terms of performances in Asian tournaments.

The period from 1951 to 1962 is considered the golden era in Indian football. Under the tutelage of legendary Syed Adbul Rahim India became the best team in Asia. The Indian team started the 1950s with their triumph in the 1951 Asian Games which they hosted. India beat both Indonesia and Afghanistan 3-0 to reach the final where they beat Iran 1-0. In 1952, India continued their form by winning the Colombo Quadrangular Cup held in Sri Lanka.

Later that year they went on to participate in the 1952 Olympics, but lost 10-1 to Yugoslavia. As four years earlier, many of the team played without boots. After the result AIFF immediately made it mandatory to wear boots.

India also won three further editions of the Quadrangular Cup, which were held in Burma, Calcutta and Dhaka in 1953, 1954 and 1955 respectively. They then went on to finish second in the 1954 Asian Games held in Manila.At the 1956 Olympic Games they finished fourth, which is regarded as one of finest achievements in Indian football.

They first met hosts Australia, winning 4-2 with Neville D'Souza becoming the first Asian to score a hatrick in the Olympics and also making India the first Asian team to reach the Olympic semi-finals. They lost 4-1 to Yugoslavia, and lost the third place play-off match 3-0 to Bulgaria. India later participated in the 1958 Asian Games in Tokyo where they finished fourth and the Merdeka Cup 1959 in Malaysia finishing second.

India went on to win the 1962 Asian Games where they beatSouth Korea 2-1 in the final and two years later finished second in the Asian Cup which was held in round-robin format. India played in the Merdeka Cup in 1964, 1965 and 1966 where they finished 2nd, 3rd and 3rd respectively.

India later played in the Asian Games in 1966 in Bangkok but were eliminated in first round. India took third place in the 1970 Asian Games, beating Japan 1-0 in the third place, play-off but have failed to qualify for other major tournaments, other than as host, only once since that time.

Although India failed to qualify for the 2004 Asian Cup, the senior team shone in a silver medal-winning performance in the inaugural Afro Asian Games, with victories over Rwanda and Zimbabwe (then 85 places ahead of India in the world rankings) along the way, losing the final by just 1-0 to Uzbekistan.

Unfortunately India could not do much not when they lost to Pakistan and Bangladesh in the 2003 SAFF Cup and defeats in the 2006 World Cup qualifiers meant Stephen Constantine was sacked.

In 2005 Syed Nayeemuddin was appointed as India coach but he was immediately sacked following year after heavy defeats in 2007 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers. Bob Houghton was later appointed coach of team in 2006.

His appointment saw a general progress in India-s performances crowned by victory in 2007 Nehru Cup in August 2007. Houghton led India to the2008 AFC Challenge Cup title as they beat Tajikistan 4-1 in August 2008. Winning the AFC challenge cup eventually qualified them for the AFC Asian Cup for the first time since 1984. He also oversaw the Indian team to its second consecutive Nehru Cup trophy by winning 2009 Nehru Cup.

This time round it's going to be tough for India though, with the group looking to be one of the hardest on paper in the tournament. They'll do well to pick up any points and it's not expected that they'll progress beyond the group stage.

This said they'll be gunning to produce an upset and after waiting so long to play at a major tournament they'll be ready and raring to go come kick-off time against the Aussies.

Ranked at a lowly 142, Australia should have nothing to fear against the Indians. However, they are keen to improve on their 23rd ranking in the Asian Football Confederation and solid performances in the group stage could see them move into the top 20. Australia will have to be patient against them and hope that their superior attacking ability should see them come home with a comfortable victory and plenty of goals to boot. A good start to the campaign will buoy the number one ranked Aussies as they bid to win some Asian silverware.