The time has finally arrived for young goalkeeper Moirangthem Dheeraj Singh to make the transition to the big stage. The Manipuri footballer got his maiden call-up into the national side after head coach Igor Stimac included him in the 26-member squad for the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying matches against Afghanistan and Oman, to be played later this month.
Dheeraj first came into the spotlight during the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup. His performance under the woodwork earned him accolades.
He was the first-choice goalkeeper for India in the tournament. Though he didn’t manage to keep a clean sheet in the three matches he played, he was praised for his goalkeeping skills and technique.
After his stint with the U-17 Indian side, Dheeraj joined the All India Football Federation (AIFF) developmental side Indian Arrows in 2017. After a short stint with the club, Dheeraj chose Scotland’s Motherwell FC over the Indian Arrows.
The AIFF Elite Academy product trained for two months with the Scottish club.
Impressed with the youngster, Motherwell FC had offered him a three-year deal but he wasn’t granted a work permit in United Kingdom – since he was yet to turn 18 at that time.
Apart from that, as per a report in The Times of India, for a player to attain a work permit in the United Kingdom, he should have featured in at least 75 percent of his country’s competitive international games over the course of two years.
Additionally, the country the player is representing, over the course of those two years, should have earned a place in the top 70 of the Fifa rankings on average – both these rules ruled Dheeraj out.
The ISL Journey
After failing to sign for a European club, Dheeraj came back to India and joined Kerala Blaster for a season last year.
Dheeraj played 13 league matches for the Kerala outfit in the Indian Super League. A good season with them earned him place in the India U-23 national team. He made his debut against Qatar in an international friendly-cum-preparatory match for the 2019 AFC U-23 Championship Qualifiers.
Dheeraj signed for ATK football club in this edition of the Indian Super League but is yet to start for them.
"“Dheeraj is a player for the future. We have always trusted our youngsters and they have also shown their prowess on the pitch. Our first-choice goalkeepers are Gurpreet and Amrinder and we have seen Kamaljit and Vishal too. Now, we would like to see Dheeraj closely as he belongs to those we should rely on in the future.”" - Igor Stimac, Head Coach, India Football Team
India will play against Afghanistan at the neutral venue of Dushanbe, the capital city of Tajikistan, on 14 November in the first-leg match, while the Blue Tigers take on Oman in Muscat on 19 November for the second-leg tie.
India had lost to Oman 1-2 in the home-leg in Guwahati on 5 September.
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