Just the beginning: Sahal and Co. relive their emotional debut

Putting on the colours of the national team is a dream that every player harbours. All the hard work and struggle which goes into making oneself worthy of representing your nation makes the experience an unparalleled emotional affair - one which the likes of Brandon Fernandes, Sahal Abdul Samad, Raynier Fernandes, Amarjit Singh, Rahul Bheke and Michael Soosairaj recently had the chance to experience. The six were recently handed their India debuts by head coach Igor Stimac during Wednesday's King's Cup opener against Curacao and needless to say, the day will be highlighted in golden letters in each of their lives.

In a recent interview with the All India Football Federation (AIFF) website, the dynamic six reflected on their journey and the roller-coaster of emotions they went through while walking onto the field donning the famed Blue stripes.

FC Goa's Brandon Fernandes looked back at his journey so far and expressed his heartfelt gratitude to his family for being his anchor through thick and thin. "I had tears in my eyes singing the national anthem. My first match for the country as a senior player. It's a special moment in my life about which I've been dreaming forever. There were a lot of times when things were difficult, but when I finally got the news, I was delighted along with my parents and entire family. They stuck with me all these years and supported me through thick and thin. They were praying for me back home. I thank them for all they have done."

It has been a long journey for Rahul Bheke from playing the streets in Mumbai to becoming a full-fledged Blue Tiger at the Chang Arena in Thailand. The 28-year-old Bengaluru FC player recalled the experience with the hope that it was only the start to his fairytale in blue. "Walking out onto the pitch with the team is the best feeling and I enjoyed every moment of it. This was the day I had been working for all these years. I'm glad my wish finally came true. Now that I have got the chance, I want to keep improving and moving towards becoming the kind of player the coach wants me to," he declared.

For Mumbai City FC's Raynier Fernandes, the special day was a tribute to his late father. "I want to dedicate this moment to my dad. He's not there anymore and this was the only thing that was left for him to see. I was thinking about him when I was out on the pitch and played for him," the emotional youngster stated. He then went on to talk about the match itself, saying that even though the result was not ideal the experience of playing international football was amazing.

Kerala Blasters FC sensation Sahal Abdul Samad was, without the shadow of a doubt, India's standout player in the match against Curacao. He spoke highly of Stimac’s style of play and looked back at his debut as 'just the beginning'. "There were a few nerves at the start. It was certainly a proud moment. I feel this is just the beginning and from here, I want to keep playing for the national team and keep improving," he said.

Despite his tender age, 18-year-old Amarjit Singh knows a thing or two about stepping onto a big stage, having captained the India U-17 team during the FIFA U-17 World Cup in 2017. However, even for him, the senior team debut was an overwhelming emotion. "As I was coming in, I was really excited. There were butterflies in my stomach. It has always been a dream to play for the senior team and I am very happy," said Amarjit, who impressed with his calm demeanour after coming on at half-time.

The last player to come onto the field for his debut in the match against Curacao was Micheal Soosairaj. For the Tamil Nadu-born player, it marked the realization of a dream he shared with his elder brother Regin Michael - a fellow professional player in the domestic circuit. "I want to thank my brother. I remember he used to keep telling me that you will play for India one day. I'm glad I could make our dream come true," he remarked.

As the range of emotions so clearly portray, it was an incredibly proud moment for the players, their families and all Indian football fans. However, there's still a long way to go both for the team and the players individually. As Sahal so aptly put it, it's 'just the beginning'.

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