India might have lost their opening game in the ongoing AFC U-23 Championship qualifiers to Uzbekistan but they still have a chance to go through if they manage to win against Tajikistan and other results go in their favour.
Defender Narender Gahlot, however, is confident ahead of one of the biggest tests of his early career.
Gahlot allowed Goal to peek into his developmental phase and admitted that he started off as a midfielder before his coach opted to put him in defence.
“I used to play cricket. But one of my close friends always played football. So just like that, I started playing football. My family wanted me to become an athlete, so they supported me a lot. My friend lent me the boot when I first played football. Then after that when my family got to know about this, they bought me my own boots.
“I joined Chandigarh Football Academy in 2015. In Delhi, I had to travel a lot to attend practice sessions. I used to get tired. But in CFA, along with good food and hostel facilities, the ground was also very near. I used to play regular tournaments for CFA which helped me progress as a player.
“I started as a midfielder but my coach felt that I would play better as a defender. I started as a defender in one match and I played really well. Since then, I've been playing as a defender,” he said.
The 17-year-old made the most of the opportunity that befell him and featured for the country in the U-17 World Cup held in India in 2017. He gave an insight of how his time wiith the U-17 team and Indian arrows helped him grow as a player.
“I got selected in SAI's football team. We had two training camps in Dehradun and Haryana respectively. Then a practice match was organised between SAI and the U17 World Cup team. I played well in that match and Nicolai (Adam) Sir selected me.
“I don't want to complicate things for myself. I try not to make mistakes. We are always focused on not conceding. Communication with the goalkeeper is very important. We support each other very well so that we don't make mistakes."
He went on to credit former India international defender Mahesh Gawli who is part of the support team for the youngsters at Arrows.
“Mahesh Gawli helps me a lot. He was a great defender himself. He has improved my understanding and match reading. I am grateful to him for improving me as a player.
“Indian Arrows like to play out from the back. I like to pass and play with the ball. So, the coach handed me a chance. I work regularly with the ball to improve my passing,” he continued.
Indian Arrows had an impressive campaign in the I-League this time around. The youngsters did well to beat top teams like Mohun Bagan and put on appreciable performances against the likes of eventual champions Chennai City and Real Kashmir. Gahlot admitted that he felt they did a great job against those teams.
“It was difficult to play Chennai City in the very first match. But we grew in confidence as the tournament progressed. Playing RKFC was tough as they play long balls and they have physically dominant strikers upfront. But I think we did a good job against them as well."
Narender has set his eyes on the ongoing AFC U23 qualifiers and wants to leave no stone unturned to make his mark at the international stage.
“Coach (Derrick) is supporting me very well. I am playing just the way he wants me to play. If he picks me then I will give my 100%. It will be a great opportunity for me to impress,” he concluded.
(With inputs from Sooraj Kamath)