The conundrum for coach Harjinder Singh is over. 18 goals in four matches in the Administrator’s Cup from Daniel Lalhlimpuia and the faith he had reposed in the coveted member of the Chandigarh Football Academy,has paid off. Before the start of the tournament Harjinder was not even sure whether Daniel and AZ Lalramzauva,his two players blessed with wonderful pair of feet,would feature in the starting line-up of the team as the two were away on duty for the national team for the AFC Under-16 Championship at Iran. “Their presence add extra 40 to 50 percent muscle to the team,” Harjinder had said.
Daniel,with those mind-boggling goals and the extra bite which Lalramzauva has added to the team,clearly shows why these players have become such an integral part of the Chandigarh team over the years. Now,there is so much intensity,such collective will to win in this Chandigarh team that it has gone four straight games without conceding a single goal and instead pumped in 58 goals- a wonderful effort from the team which will now face Dalbir Academy from Patiala in the final to be played on Tuesday.
If Daniel has successfully adhered to his duty of scoring goals for the team and Lalramzauva,or Arjit as he is fondly called by his team members,has orchestrated the midfield unfailingly,then Mohammad Sajid Dhot has brought an extra dimension to the team at the heart of the team’s defence that already has the services of experienced Nishu Kumar. “Sajid’s presence has certainly strengthened our defence. He is tall,strong and good in the air. If he stays with us for another few months,then I am sure he will also improve his foot work. He is a delight to watch,” shared Harjinder.
Sajid was a trainee at St Stephen’s Football Academy under the tutelage of Surinder Singh before he made heads turn with rock-solid performances and was drafted into the Indian Under-14 and then Under-16 team. “It was I who insisted on taking part in the Administrator’s Cup. I really wanted to play on the turf where I have spent my formative years,” Sajid said.
The three were in rampaging form in the recently concluded AFC Under-16 Championship held at Iran. Though India failed to make it to the quarter-finals,their performance against Syria and,more notably,China stood out. After losing to eventual champions Uzbekistan 2-3 in the first match,the Indian team led by Arjit drew 0-0 with Syria. In the must-win match against China,the Indian boys did well to open the account through Daniel but failed to keep the momentum going and settled for a 2-2 draw,which resulted in their exit from the tournament but not before earning praise from coach Colm Toal.
“We were unlucky to concede some easy goals. However,we are satisfied with the performance and it felt great to know that we managed to drew with China,something which has never happened before in over 20 years. Their AFC ranking is six while we are ranked 32. So,it was a great result,” shared Arjit,the captain of the team.
After the Under-16 SAFF Championship held last year,the Indian team was taking part in a major championship after a gap of one year. It was without any healthy competition against strong teams in the last 12 months and that really held back the players from playing to their optimum level. However,the friendly matches before the championship at Dubai did help them to get into the groove. “In India,we dominate whenever we play in a national tournament. However,things are different at international level as the oppositions are physically and technically superior to us. We learn a lot by playing against stronger teams and we take lot of confidence from those matches. In the championship,it was a rude awakening for us to face such tough opponents because we had not been tested this much before,” said Daniel,15.
The different approach of coaches have not helped the cause of the team either. At Chandigarh,both Daniel and Arjit play free-flowing,one touch game,where possession is given supreme importance. But once they wear the Indian blue flannels,they have to switch to a physically exhausting game where keeping the ball to oneself is considered a sin. Caught between these two different worlds of playing style,the players are bound to get confused. “There is pressure when we play for India. But everytime we are on the field,we only think of winning matches for the country. We are still young and need to go step by step. We are always ready for new challenges,” Sajid rolled on.
It is not until January next year that the players would be told to assemble before they embark on another ambitious goal. Right now,the final of Administrator’s Cup and holding the glistening trophy is all they are thinking about.