Life is full of surprises.
“You never know what awaits you,” Aiborlang Khongjee, the 475th Player to have debuted for India, says.
“I was in Shillong when Karim Bencherifa called me up and told me, or rather hinted that I may be in the National Camp. I thought he must be joking. But the joke turned into reality when I got the call. I was surprised; in fact, a bit shocked,” the 26-year old smiles.
“National Camp,” I told myself. “This is huge. It was my childhood dream. I pinched myself. I never expected the call.”
“My mom, brother and sister were very happy. But I was nervous. As the day approached, I packed my bags and landed in Goa.”
How was the first day? You ask.
Team physio Gigy George looks up, Aibor scratches his head.
“I was scared; tensed. I didn’t know what to do, whether to speak or not. It was like my first day in School. More than being a different setup for me, I was still to be soaked into the atmosphere. Things eased out after the first training,” he says.
Gigy smiles, so do you.
Were you ragged? You ask again.
“No,” he stresses. “Slowly I fell into place and started enjoying. I was training under the National Coach, under a different system and a different set-up. It was a learning curve,” he goes on. “But I must say my Club Coach also follows the same philosophy. So I was a bit at home in the practice sessions.”
Thereafter? You quip back.
“I never expected that I would be getting my first India Cap against Philippines. It was only when Wim-Sir (Koevermans) told it in the Team Meeting that I knew I would be starting. And I became nervous again.”
“The nervousness stayed till the kick-off. A lot many questions cropped up – ‘Will I be able to justify my selection?’ But the moment it started, I had nothing else in mind. It was just about playing Football, but a much higher intensity.”
Life is full of surprises, at least for Aiborlang Khongjee.
At the morning recovery session at the Kanchenjunga Stadium, Koevermans expresses his satisfaction over Khongjee’s performance. “I’m happy the manner he responded,” Koevermans maintained.
“He left a good impression in the Training sessions. There were so many fans who were watching and the International Football is played at a much higher tempo. His character was on display.”
How much is International Football different from playing in Airtel I-League?
“The ball moves so much and fast in International Football. In Airtel I-League, the strikers don’t press and prefer to wait for the ball. Against Philippines, it was a different story. If you lose concentration even for a second, you are killed,” Aiborlang says in one breath.
“Their No 17 was making it so difficult. He was so good on the ball and so fast. You learn so much after containing such Players. I need to thank Wim-Sir for giving me the chance,” Khongjee opines about Bundesliga’s Eintracht Frankfurt midfielder Stephan Markus Schrock.
So Aiborlang Khongjee has become a big star? You tease him.
“Star?” there’s disbelief in his voice. “I’m the same old person. But yeah, a much more confident Player.”
As you walk away, you hear Gigy’s voice. “Any pain?” You understand the monitoring process is still on.
(Report & Picture courtesy AIFF Media)