Kolkata, June 11 (IANS) Former India footballer Syed Rahim Nabi, who made his debut along with Sunil Chhetri against Pakistan in Quetta in 2005, has said they never expected they would get to play in that game and were lazing around when the call came.
“I remember reaching Quetta city four days prior to the match. Two days later, we got an invitation from some senior officials of the Indian High Commission. It was a huge moment for both of us and we didn't even know how to present ourselves in front of such important people. Then we decided to stay at the back of everyone and imitate our seniors,” Nabi said to www.the-aiff.com.
“We were roommates and the youngest players in the squad. Seniors like skipper Venky-bhai (Shanmugam), Mahesh-bhai (Gawli), Renedy-bhai (Singh) used to treat us like younger brothers. Double Olympian — the late Ahmed Khan was chef-de-mission and we were star-struck seeing the legendary footballer from so close.
“Even a day before the match we had no idea that we could be included in the starting eleven. Pakistani dishes were delicious and we just couldn't resist ourselves from devouring as much as we could. The biryani at our hotel was yummy — something which I still cherish. We had no tension and were chilling around. We knew we were the youngest ones and won't get to play at all.
“Suddenly, Sukhi-sir (Sukhwinder Singh, then India coach) called both of us and said we would be playing the opener! We just couldn't imagine it in our wildest dreams. It was a jaw-dropping moment. We didn't even know how to react, and what to say,” Nabi added.
“Sunil made his debut memorable as he struck in the 65th minute to give India the lead. After Sunil scored there was pin-drop silence at the stadium. Earlier, when we came out for the warm-up before the match, the stadium was already full to its capacity,” Nabi recalled.
“People had come from remote corners — in cars, buses, trains, horse carts, bullock carts while others walked from distant places. They were hostile for debutants like me and Sunil, it was a baptism of fire in true sense.”
India football captain and country's football icon Chhetri is on the verge of adding another feather to his already illustrious cap as he is set to complete 15 years on the international arena on June 12.