Being back in the Indian football team camp was one of my targets: Rowllin Borges
Borges last appeared for the Blue Tigers when they took on Oman in March 2021 in an international friendly and is back with the national team after a two-year break.
The SAFF Championship has been one of the oldest international tournaments that India have been part of. Having made thirteen appearances in the competition, the Blue Tigers have made their name as one of the most successful teams in the tournament, winning it a record eight times.
Falling a goal behind against neighbours Nepal during a group stage match in the 2015 SAFF Championship, a 23-year-old Rowllin Borges came clutch to draw the team back on level terms with a stinging shot that rippled into the roof of the net. Scoring his first-ever goal in national colours, the midfielder also assisted two of the following three goals that sealed a 4-1 comeback victory for India.
"It was an amazing feeling. It's one of the memories that will be with me until I live. We were losing 0-1 and came back to win the game," reminisced Borges in an interaction with the-aiff.com.
"After that, we went on to win the cup as well. It was my first major trophy. I was so excited to win it and lift it. Simply amazing," shared Borges.
Having turned 31 on Monday, the Mumbai City FC player’s birthday celebrations rang in early as he returned to the national team after a two-year break. Borges last appeared for the Blue Tigers when they took on Oman in March 2021 in an international friendly, which ended in a 1-1 draw.
"It always feels good to be part of the national team. Being back in the India camp after my injury was one of my targets. But only half of the target is fulfilled at the moment, as I've to keep working hard to earn my place in the playing squad," he said.
Borges, part of Mumbai City FC’s iconic Hero Indian Super League (ISL) double in the 2020-21 campaign, had to spend the majority of the 2021-22 season on the sidelines due to a knee injury. An experienced and a senior campaigner in the team, the midfielder’s patience was tested persistently, but he gathered the courage to keep up his fitness and remain strong.
"It was tough for me as I couldn't play much. But I continued to give my all on a day-to-day basis. There was not a single day that I doubted myself. The club's coaching staff, physios and players helped me greatly during my recovery and rehabilitation phase. And now, I'm here," Borges added.
Borges has been majorly deployed as a defensive midfielder whenever he has featured for the national team. His unique ability of acting as a deep-lying playmaker can be the key to boosting the team’s attack during transitional play, an attribute that head coach Igor Stimac might be looking forward to.
"The coach has confidence in me which is why he has brought me into this camp, and now it's on me to repay his trust on the training pitch. I need to be better every day so that I can give him whatever he wants from me and play however he wants me to," Borges quoted.
With the Hero Intercontinental Cup commencing on Friday followed by the SAFF Championship later, it is the perfect opportunity for the Nuvem-born player to showcase his abilities and get back into the mix for the AFC Asian Cup.
"Whenever you play for the national team, no matter if it's a friendly or a tournament or a qualifier, it's a great feeling. The excitement and the energy levels are much higher. As of now, our focus is more on the Hero Intercontinental Cup. But of course, we want to win and retain the SAFF title we won in Maldives in 2021. I would love to win it again," he adds.
The midfielder was on duty for the Blue Tigers in the previous edition of the AFC Asian Cup held in 2019, maing an appearance in each of the group stage games as India failed to reach the round of 16.
In the team’s first-ever successive appearance in the AFC Asian Cup, Chhetri and Co. have been drawn alongside some tricky opponents in Australia, Syria, and Uzbekistan in Group D.
"I think this is the right time for me to come in and prove myself capable enough to be in the final selection for the AFC Asian Cup. Our group is tough. Tougher than last time. I think we have to stick together and be confident in ourselves. Anything is possible in football, and I'm sure we can get some results. Confidence is the key," he said.
With potentially more gametime in the pipeline for the towering midfielder, Borges is keen on making his presence count with the national team with no intention of stopping anytime soon.
"My journey in the Indian national team has been great so far. I learned a lot from my teammates when I joined as a youngster. But it does not stop here as I'm still learning and constantly working hard," he concluded.