Some memories just keep coming back. A certain match played ten years back still rings a bell in my heart. Let it. I have no complaints.
With India slated to play the UAE in the World Cup Qualifier [today], the match has been coming back to me a bit too much in the last couple of weeks.
It was 2001 and we hosted the UAE at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru in the World Cup Qualifier for the 2002 Korea/Japan World Cup. On paper, we didn't have any chance; not to forget UAE were coached by Henri Michel at that time. But we won one-nil.
I.M. Vijayan's throw was long; a bit too long. I remember Bhaichung Bhutia going for the ball and it deflected towards me. The UAE goalkeeper was already out of his line and was rushing towards it. I knew I had to reach for it before he could palm it away. I was off in a flash and tapped it over him. Before it could bulge the net, I fell on the ground; my team-mates were all over me. The memory of that goal can't die ever. It was a special moment; a very special moment. My goal helped my country beat UAE. We made headlines once again.
Looking back, I don't feel it was an upset. We had gone down narrowly to the UAE some time back. There's no denying that prior to the kick-off we were a bit self-conscious. But football on the field is not about rankings and big names. It's all about who plays better on the day. It was a great team effort which helped us achieve the victory. The midfield pressed well; I.M. (Vijayan) and Bhaichung shouldered extra responsibility — both falling back to help the defence. We played the waiting game to perfection. Coach Sukhwinder Singh had planned everything.
The match opened doors for Indian players to play abroad. But somehow, it didn't materialise. I.M. (Vijayan), Jo Paul Ancheri, Khalid Jameel and myself had offers to move to the Middle East. But there was no one to guide us during those days — somehow we couldn't route through the proper channel.
The victory against UAE provided me inspiration to look ahead. And as we celebrated wildly in the dressing room, I learnt my biggest lesson as a footballer.
"The match is over. Tomorrow is a new day — another match. We need to look ahead," Sukhwinder's comments pierced the dressing room, as we headed to the team bus. We were taken aback at that moment.
But that's football. Isn't it?
The writer is a former India player