Becomes the fifth domestic player to emerge ‘Hero of the Match’ in Indian Super League season IV

Mumbai: Indian footballers have progressed from being considered for supporting roles in the Indian Super league (ISL) to match winners in 2017. In the three weeks into the season IV, featuring 10 teams playing home-and-away matches, five domestic players have emerged ‘Hero of the Match’.

Mumbai City FC’s centre-forward Balwant Singh became the fifth to achieve the feat for a stunning goal against Kerala Blasters FC in Kochi. He stayed low after a speedy burst towards the right post and deflected in the ball relayed by Brazilian Everton Santos from the right. The equaliser silenced over 35,000 fans at Jawaharlal Nehru stadium and got a 1-1 draw.

“We worked hard for recovering to draw after conceding the lead. The coach asked us to continue what we did in the first half. We were playing well, but something was missing. In the second half, we fought back like lions,” said the Punjab-born striker, while receiving a ₹50,000 cheque at the post-match ceremony.

For the first time in four seasons, there are more domestic players in every team (six Indians: five foreigners ratio) due to a change in rule.

Balwant scored twice in four Mumbai City matches. He scored with a curling right-footer at Balewadi stadium against Pune City, for whom Uruguay’s Emiliano Alfaro struck twice to wipe out the deficit and net the match winner.

Costa Rican World Cupper Alexandre Guimaraes went to Spain with the Mumbai City players for practice-cum-matches; Balwant was among them.

Last season, he was with Chennaiyin FC in ISL, and prior to that with Mohun Bagan in I-League.

Four other Indian match winners, in 16 league matches, were Delhi Dynamos FC’s Lallianzuala Chhangte for a deadly finish (against FC Pune City), Jamshedpur FC’s Mehtab Hoosein’s defending (against champion Atletico de Kolkata), Chennaiyin FC’s Jerry Lalrinzuala for his all-round show (against FCPC), and North East United FC’s Holicharan Narzary for his tireless running (against Delhi Dynamos FC).

Twenty-year-old Mizoram forward, Lallianzuala, has the distinction of being the youngest Indian to score in an international tournament. He was 18 when he found the net at SAFF Cup 2015 against Nepal.

Manipur-born Bipin Singh came up with probably the most spectacular goal, a direct free-kick with his left foot for Atletico de Kolkata (ATK) at Yubabharati Kridangan.

ATK coach Terry Sheringham chose Dubai for pre-season, where 22-year-old Bipin’s skill in set-pieces earned him a place in the squad for three matches for work rate and versatility.

Other Indians to get on the scoring sheet are regulars Mohammed Rafi, Sunil Chhetri, Mandar Dessai, and Lenny Rodrigues. The lesser known name in the list of goal-getters is Rohit Kumar from Pune City, whose power-packed header into the net earned him appreciation from head coach Ranko Popovic from Serbia.

Five ‘Hero of the Match’ awards to Indians is a promising start (11 foreign players emerging match winners). Each team has a foreigner as head coach and players were chosen for first-team places based on form in pre-season. With opportunities backed by performances, locals are off to a flying start.