Indian international Adil Ahmed Khan looks back at the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and AFC Asian Cup China 2023 first leg encounter against Bangladesh as the Blue Tigers get ready for the return leg.
On the surface, it was just another day for me. But Kolkata was buzzing – the City of Joy has always risen to the occasion for a big football match, and it was no different.
Expectations were sky-high in Kolkata as we took on Bangladesh at the VYBK after holding Asian champions Qatar in their own den. Tickets for the match were sold out a week back. The ‘City of Joy’ was absolutely elated.
But my build-up hit a roadblock. As part of my upbringing, I always call up my dad prior to any match. That day when I called, my mom picked up and informed me that my dad was hospitalised and was to undergo heart surgery the same day.
I was on the team bus on the way to the stadium. Honestly, I was a bit devastated. My dad has been the biggest football fan and my inspiration. I felt helpless. As we approached the YBK on the day, I could see the hordes of fans heading for the cauldron.
I will never forget the roar that greeted us when we walked in. It made me forget everything. For a man, there are days when you feel possessed, possessed with faith and belief that you are invincible on that day. I wanted to dive deep into my National team colours – my desperation to find solace – I wanted to be the son of the soil.
I looked at the packed stands. They had come from distant corners to watch us, they sacrificed other priorities to watch me. I needed to pay them back.
Bangladesh were stubborn. It was hard to break them. We tried everything, but it didn’t pan out the way we wanted it to go, and as we headed into the half-time, we were a goal down.
In the second half, we went all out. But the ball just didn’t go in. There were misses, deflections, goal-line saves, and it made us start to wonder – ‘Is today one of those days?’
I did manage to pull off a goal-line clearance for us. The ball was lobbed and I was off my blocks in the perfect time – managing to clear it off the line.
We were nearing the fag end, when we got another of those innumerable corners. Till now, Chhetri-bhai was making the runs to the first post, but he was understandably heavily marked. In fact, just a few minutes earlier, he did manage to shake off his marker and glide a header off the first post, but it went agonisingly wide.
As I watched Brandon walk up to take the corner, I gestured to him. Both of us were roommates for that trip to Kolkata, and we used to talk a lot about a goal that I had scored for Churchill Brothers from one of his corners, back in our days in the Hero I-League.
I told Chhetri-bhai that I will make that run to the first post, and he agreed. Brandon, as usual, was spot on. I somehow managed to leap and connect with the ball properly, and it generated the power and the angle required. I saw the net bulging and heard the roar – some 70,000 people were relieved, cheering my goal, for my country. Life is certainly made of such moments – I went blind, I went deaf. That roar will stay with me forever.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have much time to score another.
Seeing my wife post-match at the stadium provided some comfort – she was the television presenter that night for the host broadcaster. It was such a relief to hear that my dad’s surgery was a successful one. The first thing I did when I received my phone back was to call back home.
The match will always be a hallmark in my life. I had fought my way back to the National team after a spell of injuries that had kept me out of football for long. I was so motivated.
When I met my dad I told him about my goal for India. He had never missed any match since my Academy days wherein he used to travel long distances to watch me play. I felt proud of not letting him down, and obviously, he was proud of his son making a mark for the country. Life is made of such moments.
(Adil Ahmed Khan; as told to Nilanjan Datta / AIFF Media)