Cutting in from the left,Air Indias Affan Yousuf collected a cross-field lob by Vinod Pillay at the edge of the Punjab D. In one motion,he brought the ball down. With the next,he took it away from the defender and then slammed it past goalkeeper Kamaldeep Singh. It was an effort worthy of being labelled as one of the goals of the senior national championships and in that one moment,Yousuf showed why he is regarded as one the most promising players in the country.
The 19-year-old forward played a crucial role in helping Air India win the title by beating Punjab 6-2 in the final,scoring two goals. And if his second goal was all about deftness and accuracy,he displayed enough skill and pace to score his first in the third minute to prove his overall worth. Hes the kind of talent that takes your breath away, says Olympian Balbir Singh,whose term as the chief selector of the national team ended on Monday. B P Govinda,who will replace Balbir as the head of the selection panel,adds: He is the find of the tournament,theres no doubt about it. The two goals he scored today show the kind of skills he possesses. He needs to be utilised well.
The old and the new
Yousuf gelled well with veteran striker Sameer Dad,34,to create havoc in an otherwise solid Punjab defence. Like Yousuf,Dad too scored a brace. It was a case of Air Indias oldest,and the most experienced,player combining with the youngest. It was a case of an uncle combining with his nephew.
Yousuf was only five when Dad played in his first national championships. Dad,who scored a brace himself against Punjab,was playing in his 14th nationals whereas young Yousuf was making only his second appearance in the tournament playing his first for Bhopal last year. The uncle-nephew combo first played together for Bhopal Badshahs in the World Series Hockey but has now returned to the Hockey India fold. Yousufs father Mohammad too played for India. I play in the same position as my father (left out) and started my career like him with Bhopal. Now,I am playing with chacha at Air India. He has tremendous experience and knowledge of the game so he has played a big role in shaping my career, Yousuf,who was named player of the tournament,says.
Yousuf and Dad were by far the two best players of the nationals. Though a comeback seems unlikely for the 34-year-old Dad,itll be surprising if Yousuf does not make the cut,at least for the junior side. Yousuf was among the nine players from the WSH who were called to the preparatory camp by Hockey India for this years junior World Cup. He failed to break into the squad that travelled to Europe for an exposure tour,instead taking part in the nationals. He (Yousuf) liked playing football as a child and played as a striker. But gradually,his interest in hockey grew and picked up the sport quickly. He started his career with Indian Oil but since he wasnt getting many opportunities to play there,I thought Air India would suit him the best, Dad says.
Result: Air India 6 (Sameer Dad 2,39,Affan Yousuf 3,42,Joga Singh 53,Pradan Somanna 58) bt Punjab 2 (Deepak Thakur 54,68).