Halicharan Narzary: We now understand each other's game

India has only the New Zealand hurdle to overcome to make it comfortably to the finals of the Hero Intercontinental Cup and will clash swords will the All Whites on Thursday at the Mumbai Football Arena. Having already dominated both Chinese Taipei and Kenya in their previous two fixtures, the Blue Tigers are in lethal form and are the favourites to win. While Sunil Chhetri has been the talk of the town taking into account his incredible performances for the national team, the effort and role of other stars have been equally impressive.

On Wednesday, ahead of India’s clash with New Zealand, India’s young left-winger Halicharan Narzary took questions from the media in the pre-match press conference. The 24-year old has started both the matches for India and has been a pacy player down the flanks. He started off by saying how important the current tournament was to their 2019 AFC Asian Cup preparations. “It’s a good platform for us to prepare for the Asian Cup and to get the team combination right. I think the more we get to play the better it is for us. All the teams in the tournament are good and we are playing good as well.”

When asked how a winger needs to prepare himself ahead of any game, the NorthEast United FC star replied, “Basically, in the first half, you understand how the opponent is. As I play left-wing, it’s very important to find out how the stopper plays, what is his game and how he plays defensively. So for the first half of the game, I try to understand the opponents and then plan my game likewise. I have to see where the defender is and where the ball is being delivered and likewise create my space to squeeze through.

Entering the match after defeating Kenya 3-0 amidst difficult conditions due to the rain, Narzary gave a glimpse of how the team managed to overturn the hindrance and come back strongly in the second half. “Suddenly it started to rain heavily which proved to be a little difficult for us, especially because we couldn’t run freely or pass the ball efficiently,” he recollected. “The ground also had too much water, but the team as a whole decided to stick together and play unitedly. As we couldn’t play ground balls, we had to take the aerial route and played long balls. Maybe if the rain wasn’t there, we could have kept better ball possession and scored more.”

He also spoke about the support the team received on Monday at Mumbai, before sharing the pressures that come with it. “There’s a little more pressure when you play at home, but now it has become a habit. But, to play in front of such support is also a wonderful feeling. Obviously, there’s a pressure to win and perform well as so many have come to watch you play, but it feels good.” He also had a special message for captain Chhetri: “I want to congratulate Chhetri bhai as he has played 100 matches for the nation. I am very happy for him. I want him to continue playing and help the team in the process. Even I want to play for India as much as I can.”

While speaking on his dreams of playing for India for years to come, Narzary also went down memory lane and shared how his tryst with the game began. “I never thought I would play football because no one from our village has ever come this far. My father passed away when I was young and I used to help my mother in the household by doing small chores and jobs. One day while going to school I saw some boys playing football on the streets and I asked my grandfather if I can play that game. He encouraged me to play. But we didn’t have money to buy my shoes so I played barefooted with the village kids. There was a trial happening nearby and I borrowed someone’s shoes and went there. I got selected and they helped me a lot. They gave me free boots and that’s how it all started.”

Before leaving, Narzary was all praises for the backroom staff of the Indian national football team and also the camaraderie in the entire unit. “The fitness training that happens at the national camp is of a different level. It is really good. They ensure we get fitter soon, gives us fitness tips and ensures our fitness are at the top level. The amount of hard work put in is quite a lot.” He further added, “The team has been together for almost three and a half years. So now, there’s an understanding in the team. We know each other’s game and can gel better on the field and strike the correct combinations.”

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