How many times does it happen that an athlete representing his national team scores a match-saving goal and at almost at the same time his father is undergoing a heart surgery — a successful one? Indian football team defender Adil Khan savoured this on October 15, 2019, at the Yuva Bharati Krirangan (YBK), Kolkata.
With Bangladesh leading 1-0 at the half time in a Group E match of the Asian Qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup 2022 and AFC Asian Cup 2023, and with two minutes left in the game, Khan sent in a glancing header at the near post off a corner and salvaged a point for India. It triggered unlimited joy in the ‘City of Joy’.
India and Bangladesh will come face to face again in another Group E match of the Asian Qualifiers, this time here in Doha on Tuesday, and Khan would surely recall his goal and the match that he calls unforgettable while taking the field for the crucial game.
“The match will always be a hallmark in my life. I had fought my way back to the National team after a spell of injuries that had kept me out of football for long. I was so motivated,” Khan told AIFF on the eve of another encounter against Bangladesh.
“When I met my dad I told him about my goal for India. He had never missed any match since my Academy days wherein he used to travel long distances to watch me play. I felt proud of not letting him down, and obviously, he was proud of his son making a mark for the country. Life is made of such moments.”
Khan was travelling to YBK in the team bus when he came to know of his father’s heart surgery that was to be performed the same day.
“Honestly, I was a bit devastated. My dad has been the biggest football fan and my inspiration. I felt helpless. As we approached the YBK on the day, I could see the hordes of fans heading for the cauldron,” he recalled.
“I will never forget the roar that greeted us when we walked in. It made me forget everything. For a man, there are days when you feel possessed, possessed with faith and belief that you are invincible on that day. I wanted to dive deep into my National team colours – my desperation to find solace – I wanted to be the son of the soil.”
Khan remembered the packed-to-the-brim stadium.
“I looked at the packed stands. They had come from distant corners to watch us, they sacrificed other priorities to watch me. I needed to pay them back,” he thought.
Bangladesh took the lead in the 42nd minute through Saad Uddin.
“Bangladesh were stubborn. It was hard to break them. We tried everything, but it didn’t pan out the way we wanted it to go, and as we headed into the half-time, we were a goal down. In the second half, we went all out. But the ball just didn’t go in. There were misses, deflections, goal-line saves, and it made us start to wonder: ‘Is today one of those days?'”
With a few minutes left in the match, India earned comer.
“Until now, [Sunil] Chhetri bhai was making the runs to the first post, but he was understandably heavily marked. In fact, just a few minutes earlier, he did manage to shake off his marker and glide a header off the first post, but it went wide,” Khan said.
“As I watched Brandon [Fernandes] walk up to take the corner, I gestured to him. Both of us were roommates for that trip to Kolkata, and we used to talk a lot about a goal that I had scored for Churchill Brothers from one of his corners, back in our days in the Hero I-League.”
Khan told Chhetri that he would make that run to the first post.
“Brandon, as usual, was spot on. I somehow managed to leap and connect with the ball properly, and it generated the power and the angle required. I saw the net bulging and heard the roar — some 70,000 people were relieved, cheering my goal, for my country. Life is certainly made of such moments — I went blind, I went deaf. That roar will stay with me forever,” he said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t have much time to score another.”