After six players made their debut at the King’s Cup in Buriram, Thailand last month, there were three more – Narender Gahlot, Mandar Rao Desai, and Jobby Justin — who made their senior national team debut during India’s opener against Tajikistan in the Hero Intercontinental Cup.
“The aim for any footballer is to play for the national team,” Mandar told www.the-aiff.com, before adding: “It was a great feeling to make my debut. Now, I have to keep working hard and keep my place in the side. The coach (Igor Štimac)believes in me a lot and I have to believe in myself too and keep going.”
The 27-year-old played in the left-back position and provided the assist for India’s second goal with a well-placed cross from the flank that was converted by Sunil Chhetri in the 41st minute. “I am happy that I was able to grab an assist. The team had a great performance in the first-half but what matters most is the final result. Now, we have to keep working and focus on the next game,” he stated.
Štimac praised Mandar’s abilities while stating that he “gives the team more options” in the back-line.
He said: “Mandar was good against Tajikistan. He is a great player who can do very well in the future for the national team. He gives us more options in his position along with Subhasish (Bose) and Jerry (Lalrinzuala).”
Playing alongside Mandar in the centre-back role was 18-year-old Narender, who has been part of the Indian Arrows side in the Hero I-League in the last two seasons.
“Wearing the India jersey was a special feeling,” Narender said. “I was confident from the start but feel I could have done better in the second half. We made a few mistakes but now we are determined to get a good result in our next match against DPR Korea,” he quipped.
Speaking about Narender’s performance, Stimac said: “He is a very young boy. I did not want to risk playing Sandesh (Jhingan). But despite his absence, the defence was excellent in the first half. I am sure we will have 3-4 great defenders with time who can produce more clean sheets, as we did in Thailand.”
The Head Coach also expressed his satisfaction with the efforts put in by Jobby Justin, saying that he will “get his chance” in the future. “Jobby didn’t play much against Tajikistan. But I must say I am happy with how he works on the training pitch. Everyone will get the chance to prove themselves in the coming games, including Jobby,” Štimac maintained.
The Blue Tigers will play their next match in the Hero Intercontinental Cup 2019 on Saturday (July 13, 2019) against DPR Korea in Ahmedabad, the tickets for the same can be purchased on bit.ly/HICTickets.