The 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa is now over a week old and there are numerous lessons for the Indian national football team ahead of their tough assignments in the 2011 AFC Asian Cup next January. India will be facing Australia, South Korea and Bahrain in Group B, which is the Asian Cup's group of death.
Two of these sides - South Korea and Australia - are currently playing in the World Cup and they are in a somewhat similar situation to that which India will face in the Asian Cup, only they are in our shoes on the global stage. And this is an interesting fact which our boys need to keep in mind.
The biggest of all lessons is there are no big or small teams any more. With the right tactics, proper attitude and discipline even smaller football nations can cause problems for some of the biggest in the business. Take e.g. North Korea. Would anyone have seriously considered the East Asians to cause any problems to the mighty Brazilians? With a little bit of luck they could have earned a point against Brazil, another upset like their 1-0 win against Italy in 1966.
And what level of football does North Korea play? Not much better then India I would say, surely they have improved a lot over the last few years, but the same can be said about India but it is not tested on the bigger stage as like North Korea we are lacking the big tournament experience. But as said right tactics, proper attitude and discipline can make up for a lot of that. One should not go into a match or tournament thinking how can I avoid heavy defeats, then doing so is the first defeat. A positive mindset is crucial and that is one of the biggest strengths of our coach Bob Houghton. Know your limitations and still play with them to the best of your abilities.
Another key point is picking the right opponents for international friendly games. You need to play sides who are similar to those one faces in a tournament. So who should we play who are similar to Australia, South Korea and Bahrain? My suggestion after watching the World Cup would be to play New Zealand and North Korea, who are very similar to the Aussies and the South Koreans; while also playing Gulf nations like the United Arab Emirates or Qatar, who play a similar football to Bahrain. We might lose the one or the other game, but this will be crucial experience our boys need to gain ahead of the Asian Cup. They would get a feel about what competition awaits them in Qatar.
Tactically the World Cup has also thrown out a new system which many sides seem to prefer. The 4-2-3-1 system with only one striker seems to be the new system of the future as the days of out and out strikers seem to be numbered.
India and Bob Houghton have over the last few years have preferred a simple 4-4-2 system and he is likely to stick with it, but maybe if Bob is thinking about a more controlled system then this could be answer for him. But to play this system he needs the right players.