Dhaka: When Chennaiyin FC play Abahani Limited Dhaka in the 2019 AFC Cup on Wednesday at the Bangabandhu National Stadium, it will be the first time they will be playing away from India.
But for Anirudh Thapa, this is no unfamiliar territory. Last year, the youngster got to wear the captain’s armband in Dhaka at the SAFF Cup when he became the youngest player to take that responsibility. While it was a dream come true for the Dehradun boy, the dream didn’t end as he would have desired when India lost to Maldives in the final.
See also :
Matchday Four: Central, South & East Zones Previews
Matchday Six: ASEAN Zone Preview
Matchday Six: West Zone Preview
As he returns to the same arena, albeit with his club, he admits that the loss still rankles.
“It still hurts and I have not been able to forget it to be honest," he said. “But the experience means that I know the ground and the conditions well and will try my best to do something special with the Chennaiyin team to replace that memory with a good one.”
Chennaiyin FC sit atop the Group E table and Thapa admitted that it’s advantage to them before the start of the second round of matches.
“We have been playing some good football and the current position in the points table will allow us to play without pressure. So, we are definitely going to be playing better in the coming games.”
Thapa has emerged as a vital cog in the wheel for John Gregory’s (pictured above) side. He credits the 'family kind of atmosphere’ in the dressing room for that.
“When I came into the team we had already won the league once. But the seniors were extremely supportive and helped me develop my game. It’s always been a family kind of atmosphere in the dressing room, results notwithstanding."
That doesn't mean there is any lack of competition within the side.
“There are several players who could play in my position. That competition meant that I had to improve as a player to be a regular in the team. So, it really helped me improve as a player,” said Thapa.
Now central to his team's plans, he has also experienced highs and the lows with Chennaiyin. He was a part of the team that won the league in 2017-18 and also the team that finished at the bottom of the table the following season. But the fans' support keeps him and the team afloat.
"The support has always been terrific. Even when we were not at our best the last season, fans turned up in large numbers and showed their support for us. That always lifts the spirits in the dressing room.”
Only 21, there is little that Thapa hasn't achieved that an aspiring footballer would dream of achieving at his age. Recently, he scored his first goal for India as well. Talk to him about it and he is quick to tell you that he doesn't want to get ahead of himself.
He says, “At one point, I only dreamt of representing India at the highest level. Now, that I have done it, I don't want to set any goals for myself. Instead, I want to take it one day at a time. I realise how lucky I am to have got this opportunity and I want to make the best of it.”
Thapa's rapid rise through the ranks has also coincided with the rise of Indian football in general. The midfielder says India's best is yet to come.
"We have seen an overall improvement in the standard of Indian football across all levels. And it's just not men's football, even women's football is making giant strides. So, I am sure we are moving in the right direction in the game."
Recommended Stories :
Hard work and faith pays off for comeback kid Mintah
Hafiz Nor: We will give our all to reach knockout stage
Chennaiyin FC hand John Gregory contract extension