The AFC Asian Cup is going to be special for me: Nikhil Poojary
Having missed out on the previous edition of the AFC Asian Cup in 2019, full-back Poojary is set to make his first appearance at the showcase event in Qatar.
The upcoming AFC Asian Cup holds a special place for Indian football team defender Nikhil Poojary, who is eager to participate in Asia's biggest international tournament as it kicks off this Friday.
Poojary will be making his first appearance at the AFC Asian Cup. After missing out on the 2019 edition, Poojary found himself included in Igor Stimac’s 26-man squad for the showcase event in Qatar.
Drawn into Group B alongside Australia, Uzbekistan, and Syria, the Blue Tigers face a formidable challenge, but full-back Poojary views it as an excellent opportunity for the team to assess their levels.
“It’s going to be special, especially for those like me, who will make their Asian Cup debuts here. It’s like a mini World Cup for us,” he stated in an interview with the-aiff.com.
“All the top teams and players from Asia will be here, so it will be a good opportunity for us to test our levels.”
#KnowYourBlueTiger 🐯— Indian Football Team (@IndianFootball) January 7, 2024
Resurrected at right-back, @nikhilcpoojary's return to the national team 🇮🇳 in 2023 has been nothing short of extraordinary 🧨
Now, it's time for the big one #AsianCup2023 #IndianFootball ⚽ pic.twitter.com/dpN9qbIsWv
In 2023, Poojary solidified his position as the first-choice right-back for the national team under Stimac. He played a pivotal role in their triumphs in the Intercontinental Cup and the SAFF Championships, along with appearances in the King’s Cup, Merdeka Cup, and the FIFA World Cup 2026 Qualifiers. Across these tournaments, the 28-year-old featured in 12 games and secured a start in 10 of them. He expressed his desire to continue contributing to the team.
“Last year was very important for me, and for us as a team. We have played so many matches together, won and lost together, we have grown as a team and as a unit,” he reflected.
“Personally, I have really enjoyed this time, and I just want to keep playing at this level for as long as I can.”
While 2023 brought success, Poojary faced numerous challenges. Prior to his call-up to the national squad for the Intercontinental Cup, his last appearance for India was in 2019 during their goalless draw against Qatar in the FIFA World Cup 2022 Qualifiers.
Transitioning from a winger to a full-back, Poojary's impressive performances for Hyderabad FC, where he also won the Indian Super League (ISL) Cup during the 2021-22 season, caught Stimac's eye, leading to his recall to the national team setup.
Recalling the battles he faced since suffering an ACL injury in 2017, Poojary said,
“People just see the international level, but there are so many battles one has to fight, just to be there. You need to go through so many steps to make your comeback.”
He further expressed his gratitude, stating, “I am very thankful to the coaches for showing their trust and support in me.”