By Kaustav Bera
Goal.com recently published the Asian Best XI, selected by editors from across all Asia. Among the Best XI, two players who had played a stellar part in the recently concluded Nehru Cup made it into the elite list. Syria's Al Shbli occupied the right back slot and deservedly so, having had a splendid tournament where he also scored 3 goals 4 matches.
However surprisingly the Indian representation in the Asian Best XI, was not Sunil Chhetri, the most valuable player of the tournament, but Syed Rahim Nabi. The Mohan Bagan wing-back might not have hit the back of the net as frequently as Al Shbli or Chhetri but was one of the standout performers in the Nehru Cup nonetheless.
A full back by trade, Nabi has always had to live in the shadows of his more illustrious compatriots up front, be it Chhetri or Bhaichung Bhutia. When it comes to performance however, Nabi is no slouch and in fact it is safe to say that if there was one player who consistently turned up for the Indian team whenever called, the Kolkata boy has be up there.
While fame may have eluded him and headline appearances were left to the more recognisable members of the squad, Nabi has represented India at the senior level from 2004 onwards, but has managed only 50 caps while someone like Gouramangi Singh who has only started playing in the senior level from 2006 has notched 62 appearances for the Blue Tigers. It was only towards the end of Bob Houghton's regime as India's national team coach that Nabi was slotted in at left-back.
What the 5 ft 7 inch full back brought to the team was a bundle of energy. Armed with the ability to play almost everywhere on the outfield, even having been deployed as a striker for India, Nabi had made either full back positions his own. He may not be the biggest player on the pitch, but opposition wingers would usually find Nabi as an unmovable obstacle in their path. Cool and composed defensively, yet Nabi's chief threat lies in his overlapping runs and bursts forward where he links up effortlessly with the winger.
Since Nabi started his career as a striker, he has a keen eye for goals and shoots when the opportunity presents itself. Even with his relatively short stature, he has a great leap off the ground and has scored several headers as opposition defenders would not watch the diminutive full back closely enough.
With sterling performances both in the recently concluded Nehru Cup, AFC Challenge Cup as well as the SAFF Cup in 2011, Nabi was certainly the most consistent performer. His performances earned him the Football Players Association of India Best Player of the Year award. Hence Nabi finds himself in the limelight as he makes a deserved entry into the Asian Best XI.
The Indian international, who is still just 26 years old, clearly has a lot more to give to his national side and with such flawless performances to back him up, he definitely has a chance to turn the spotlight on himself as he has done after a fine Nehru Cup performance. His selection in Goal.com's Asian best XI is testament to his consistent displays in the Nehru Cup where he played a crucial role.
What do you think? Was Syed Rahim Nabi better than Sunil Chhetri in the Nehru Cup? Should he have been the MVP? Let us know...
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