Updated January 15th, 2024 at 22:24 IST

Baptism by fire: How Deepak Tangri hit the ground running for the Blue Tigers

India fought hard, but succumbed 0-2 at the hand of the Aussies, but gave a good account of themselves against a far superior opponent.

Deepak Tangri | Image:AIFF
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It was the afternoon of Saturday, January 13, in Doha, where the Ahmed bin Ali Stadium was just filling up with around an hour to go for the first match of Group B of the AFC Asian Cup Qatar 2023, between Australia and India, to kick off. Doha, at this time of the year, is a rather pleasant town, where a sudden gush of cool breeze could give you the chills, depending on how used you are to the cold.

Regardless of the air and it’s temperature, one person on the pitch, warming up ahead of the game, would have felt the figurative chills when he heard his name being announced on the PA system in the stadium. Deepak Tangri had never played an international match at the senior level. But his first taste of football at this level was as big as it could ever get, an AFC Asian Cup match against the mighty Australia.

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“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 said to the-aiff.com. “It was a different feeling. It was an amazing feeling.”

Tangri is a man who had been called up for preparatory National Team camps on a couple of occasions previously but had never made the final cut for any tournaments. It was only before the AFC Asian Cup that he made the cut for the final 26, but little did he know that his baptism would be of fire.

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“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,” said Tangri.

“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.”

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India fought hard, but succumbed 0-2 at the hand of the Aussies, but gave a good account of themselves against a far superior opponent. Tangri held his own for the 86 minutes that he was on the pitch, making 13 possession recoveries, six interceptions, winning seven duels, and having a passing accuracy of 82 percent.

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

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For all the good showing on the pitch, however, Tangri’s father, a clothes merchant in his native town of Bilga, Punjab, did not watch him play his maiden game for India.

“My father never watches me play. He gets too nervous,” smiled Tangri. “I spoke to him after the game, and my mother had told him all about it by then. They were both so happy that I played for India, for the first time.”

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Tangri, who has had the experience of playing for India at the junior level, believes that all the information that he soaked in from the senior guys like Sunil Chhetri, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Sandesh Jhingan, Rahul Bheke and others, ultimately helped him.

“We get to learn so much from these guys. Chhetri bhai tells us how to react to different game situations. Sandesh paji is a straight-talker. He tells us our mistakes for what they are, and shows us how not to make them,” said Tangri. “They are all fine leaders and seniors, and we learn so much from them.”

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Published January 15th, 2024 at 22:24 IST