'It was a tough tournament'
India ended their Asian Cup campaign after losing all their three matches but coach Bob Houghton vowed the country will come back tronger in the next edition in 2015 having gained rich experience after playing in the continent's biggest stage for the first time in 27 years.
India were playing in the Asian Cup for the first time after 1984 and though they were at the receiving end against formidable sides Australia, South Korea besides Bahrain here, Houghton hoped the country's football standard will rise after participating in the showpiece event.
"It was a tough tournament, playing three matches in eight days that too against top sides like Australia and South Korea. We have played our best, the boys fought till the end in all the three matches. We can return home with our heads held high.
"The boys have gained a rich experience from the competition. So I think we will come back stronger and give better performances against the likes of Australia and South Korea in the next Asian Cup," Houghton said after his side lost 1-4 to title contenders South Korea in the last Group C match.
Image: Indian players react after losing a match during the AFC Asian Cup in Doha
'Bhutia is a great servant of Indian football'
"When the Asian Cup draw was made a few months ago, everybody said it would be a disastrous campaign for us having clubbed against Australia, South Korea and Bahrain. It did not happen and so we have given a good account of ourselves.
"We have a chance to qualify for the next Asian Cup in Australia as well as the winners of the 2011 and 2013 AFC Challenge Cup will get automatic qualification and we hope to win one of the two," he said.
The 63-year-old Englishman said he was happy that captain Bhaichung Bhutia got some time in the match against South Korea.
"This boy is a great servant of Indian football. He has played more than 100 international matches for the country in his more than 16 years of career. He is liked by all his team-mates and a big influence on the team. It would have been a shame if he had not played in the Asian Cup. I am happy for him," said Houghton.
Image: Bhaichung Bhutia
'Asian Cup is the biggest stage in my career'
Bhutia, who came in the 78th minute in place of Abhishek Yadav, expressed happiness to have at least played his part in the Asian Cup though for just 15 minutes.
"Asian Cup is the biggest stage in my career and I am happy that I have played in it even if it was 15-20 minutes. Overall, it has been a great experience for us to have played against the big teams like Australia and South Korea," Bhutia said.
"We have given a good account of ourselves. We played very well in the second half in all the three matches though we have given too much respect to our opponents in the first halves," he added.
Image: Bhaichung Bhutia