Lallianzuala Chhangte: Rise of a new star in Indian football

Few players from India early in their career have made such a huge impact as Lallianzuala Chhangte did on Sunday night at the Greenfield stadium. The 18-year-old, who two days earlier became the youngest Indian international, announced his arrival at the big stage in style with two superbly taken goals against Nepal in the SAFF Suzuki Cup football tournament.

Lallianzuala Chhangte (43) scored two goals against Nepal after coming on as a substitute.   -  S MAHINSHA

Few players from India early in their career have made such a huge impact as Lallianzuala Chhangte did on Sunday night at the Greenfield stadium. The 18-year-old, who two days earlier became the youngest Indian international, announced his arrival at the big stage in style with two superbly taken goals against Nepal in the SAFF Suzuki Cup football tournament.

It was denouement of the Mizoram lad’s immense potential which he had showed in the junior under-19 I-league by scoring 25 goals in two seasons. Lallianzuala, playing his second match for India, has given enough glimpses that he is going to be the next big thing in Indian football after Baichung Bhutia.

Few days ago at the pre-tournament briefing, Lallianzula looked terribly ill at ease on the stage which he shared with his captain Sunil Chhetri. Indian captain Sunil Chhetri couldn’t help pulling the youngster’s leg when he introduced him. “Here I have someone who is right now trembling like a leaf. He is a talented player and the next star in making. These young ones have kept us (seniors) on our toes all the time,’’ quipped Chhetri.

In his first interaction with the media Lallianzuala mumbled a few lines saying it was a lifetime opportunity for him. “The coach had given an opportunity and I am trying to do my best and learn as much as possible. When you look around I see my heroes playing with me I am getting richer in experience,’’ he had said then.

Of course, Lallianzuala grabbed the opportunity with both hands unlike his disastrous under-19 debut. Coach Constantine handed him the senior India debut against Sri Lanka on Christmas day when he came on as a late substitute for the injured Robin Singh. But on Sunday against Nepal, Lallianzuala came early in the second half when the match was tantalisingly poised. He immediately made an impression and had a shot saved on the goal-line by a Nepal defender.

But Lallianzuala’s ripper from the top of the box had no challenge from the Nepal goalkeeper as he became the youngest Indian to score a goal for the senior side. Lallianzuala headed in the second goal at the stroke of full-time to cap a memorable day for him.

At the post-match briefing, coach Constantine was happy with Lallianzuala performance but again reiterated his earlier observation that the youngster still had a long way to go. “When an 18-year-old scores two goals in a match it looks good. But there have been instances that they get carried away. The boy has to keep his feet on the ground. From our part we will ensure that it is kept on the ground. Like I said earlier, he is a good talent but still has a long way to go. All in all he has a bright future ahead of himself.’’

“There are talents like Lallianzuala all over the country. You just need to look at them. It was during a tournament that Lee Johnson and I picked him for the under-19 squad. He was part of the DSK Academy. I always believed that Lallianzuala was good enough for us,’’ said the coach.

Lallianzula said it was an unbelievable experience playing for the country. “Everyone has been supportive and I am enjoying it at the moment. Scoring for India is a dream come true for me,’’ he said. Everyone has put a supportive arm around the youngster.

Arnab Mondal, the towering defender, advised the media to be patient with him. “He is an extraordinary talent and a future star for us,’’ he said. Lallianzuala will now have to live up to expectations of fans and only time will tell if he fulfils it.