Indian football team midfielder Deepak Tangri expressed his surprise upon learning that he would be making his debut for the senior squad during the opening game of the AFC Asian Cup 2023 against Australia.

Having been a part of India's FIFA U-17 World Cup squad in 2017, Tangri had previously represented the country at youth levels. Despite being called up to national camps before, he had not secured a spot in the final roster for any tournaments for the senior team.

However, with key midfielders like Jeakson Singh and Rohit Kumar sidelined due to injuries, Tangri earned a place in Igor Stimac's 26-man squad for the prestigious event in Qatar.

Initially expecting to be a substitute in the AFC Asian Cup, Tangri was taken by surprise when the coaching staff informed him on the eve of the match against Australia that he would be making his debut in the starting lineup. Despite feeling nervous, he was determined to overcome the challenge and make a significant contribution to the team.

“When I got on the probables list, I just wanted to take it step-by-step. I had to play well at my club to make the final squad. Once I was there, I just wanted to train and improve every day, and give my best,” Tangri said in an interview with

“I thought maybe if I work hard and keep improving, I’ll get in as a substitute and then in the starting XI later but did not think of this,” he said.  “But once I was informed the night before the game that I would start, the first thing I did was to kick all the nerves out of my head and go to bed in time, to get a good night’s sleep.”

In their inaugural match, India faced a tough defeat against Australia despite putting up a resilient fight. Despite Australia's dominance in both attack and ball possession, they managed to concede only two goals out of the 28 shots unleashed by their opponents.

The Blue Tigers showcased commendable defensive prowess in the first half, frustrating the Socceroos and maintaining a goalless scoreline. Making his debut, Tangri delivered an impressive performance in the holding midfield role. As a guardian of the Indian defence, he exhibited tight control in the midfield, executing determined tackles and making intelligent interceptions.

Tangri was substituted before the 80th-minute mark, with Anirudh Thapa taking his place. Although India had already conceded both goals at that point, Tangri's mature display on the field belied his age, showing composure and resilience in the face of a challenging occasion.

“It was a different experience for me, playing at that level. We fought hard to maintain our shape and hold our ground against Australia. But in the end, they are such a good side that they will punish the smallest of mistakes, and that’s what happened,” he revealed. 

“We just have to keep our heads down and keep pushing for the next game.”

Regardless of the outcome, the match proved to be a memorable experience for Tangri. The overwhelming support from Indian fans, who showed up in large numbers at the Ahmed bin Ali Stadium on Saturday, created a sense of familiarity and made him feel at home. Only a few nations can command such passionate support on foreign soil.

“It was an amazing feeling to step out on the pitch with everyone cheering. I saw so many Indian flags, and for a moment, I thought maybe I was back home,” Tangri recalled. 

“It was a different feeling. It was an amazing feeling.”