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India start as underdogs against Australia in Asian Cup opener

In the continental big league after a gap of 27 years, India start as overwhelming underdogs against formidable Australia in their opening match of the Asian Cup football tournament.

sports Updated: Jan 09, 2011 15:24 IST

In the continental big league after a gap of 27 years, India start as overwhelming underdogs against formidable Australia in their opening match of the Asian Cup football tournament here on Monday.

Making it to the showpiece event for the first time after 1984 by winning the AFC Challenge Cup in 2008 was a huge achievement but the Indians are unlikely to trouble the Australians, ranked 26th in FIFA charts, in their Group C match at the Al Saad Stadium.

Talismanic Indian captain Bhaichung Bhutia is doubtful for tomorrow due to his calf muscle injury while another striker Sushil Singh will also miss the match between the lowest and top ranked sides of the tournament.

Sushil was served a two-match ban after he was red carded against North Korea in the 2010 AFC Challenge Cup in Sri Lanka. The AIFF apparently did not inform coach Bob Houghton, who was not charge of the team in the 2010 AFC Challenge Cup where India fielded a young side under Sukhwinder Singh.

With Sushil only available for the third and last group match against South Korea on January 18 and Bhutia's availability doubtful, India are left with only Sunil Chhetri and Abhisek Yadav as strikers.

India, the lowest ranked side in the tournament at 142nd in FIFA charts, also had a disastrous build-up losing seven out of nine international friendlies they played, including the 0-5 and 1-9 thrashing by the UAE and Kuwait respectively.

Scheduled friendlies against Qatar and Syria last month were curiously cancelled, leaving the side worryingly short on match practice prior to the tournament.

The team morale was hit hard by a spat between manager Pradip Chowdhury and Houghton which led to the former resigning.

Interestingly, India and Australia have met only twice earlier in their history. Both the meetings were in 1956 with India beating the Socceroos 4-2 in the Melbourne Olympics. The then Asian giants then thrashed Australia 7-1 in Sydney in a post-Olympics friendly match.