As the Pune FC U-20 team weathered attacks from a boisterous East Bengal forward line in the final match of the U-20 I-League at Jamshedpur,help arrived for the Pune team from 2573km away. Fanai Lalrempuia,son of an employee at the water works department in Lunglei,Mizoram,strode imperiously into the East Bengal box to slam in a goal and hand his side their second consecutive championship.
Lalrempuias final-match heroics were just the icing on the cake. Right through the tournament,the 16-year-old and the 18-year-old William Lalnunfela,also from Mizoram,had formed a potent attacking combination as Pune FCs colts lost just one match out of nine.
Lalrempuia,who pulled the strings for his side from central midfield,helped himself to four goals while Lalnunfela was the tournaments top-scorer with six. He had achieved the same feat during the 2012 edition of the tournament,with seven goals,while Lalrempuia had helped himself to three.
sharp footballing brains
Both have been tipped for bigger things. Ranjan Chowdhury,Pune FCs head of youth development,says,Both have sharp footballing brains. They are definitely amongst the next generation of top Indian footballers.
Chowdhury is effusive in his praise for Lalrempuia who has already represented Mizoram and scored for them in the 2013 Santosh Trophy. Lalrempuias goal was a 40-yard sizzler scored in the semi-final against Kerala,which Mizoram lost. The gangling teenager is considered one of Indias best upcoming central midfielders. Fanai has great awareness on the field. He knows when to play a particular pass and also his anticipation of where his teammates are moving is amazing. His ability to score goals on a regular basis just makes him the perfect package, says Chowdhury.
Lalrempuia,who has just completed his standard 10 exams,was noticed during the 2010 Subroto Cup football tournament in Delhi. He has been part of the Pune FC academy since 2011 and is also registered in the senior I-League.
Lalnunfela,who hails from Kolasib,a town 95 km from the state capital of Aizawl,says that he didnt really have much of a choice when it came to playing football. I have two brothers and two sisters and all of them used to play football outside all day long. I started at the age of six and I havent stopped since, he says. Son of a carpenter,Lalnunfela was noticed by Choudary at a village football tournament in Mizoram and was immediately offered the chance to be part of the academy.
Lalnunfela says that winning the U-20 I-League the second time around was quite a challenging prospect. Teams were quite well prepared this year. It was tough to break them down and we couldnt score as easily as in 2012, he says.
Lalrempuia says that his partnership with Lalnunfela blossomed during Pune FCs last group match against United Sikkim. It was a must-win match for us and William and me really got it going. He understood every pass that I was going to play and both of our movements were instinctive and synchronized, he says. Lalnunfela struck a hat-trick during the match while Lalrempuia scored a brace. Pune FC won the match 9-0.
While most budding footballers dream of earning fat contracts with big clubs,earning the India blue is the first priority for this duo. Playing for the country is our ultimate goal. Both of us idolize Sailo Malsawmtlunga (first Mizoram player to feature in the I-League) but we want an India cap before an I-League stint, say both.