Mohammad Rafi: A Head to Thrill

The Kerala Blasters may be down in the dumps in the Indian Super League now but Rafi is among the top goal-getters in the league with four goals from three games, just behind Indian captain Sunil Chettri and Chennaiyin’s Colombian striker Stiven Mendoza who head the bunch with six goals each.

Mohammad Rafi was off to a quick start this season, scoring in his Blasters debut and also slotted home the fastest-ever ISL goal with his 48th-second strike against Pune City early this week.   -  The Hindu

Mohammed Rafi was a good sprinter during his school days, he was also good at chasing birds… birds of the badminton kind. But one day, he attended a football trial at the Thrikarippur Government School in Kasargod and instantly fell in love with the beautiful game. He was a late starter, around 15 then, but he worked doubly hard.

The Kerala Blasters may be down in the dumps in the Indian Super League now but Rafi is among the top goal-getters in the league with four goals from three games, just behind Indian captain Sunil Chettri and Chennaiyin’s Colombian striker Stiven Mendoza who head the bunch with six goals each.

NO GOALS LAST YEAR

Surprisingly, the former Indian striker who shares the record of being the highest Indian goal-scorer ever in the I-League and National League with Baichung Bhutia and Sunil Chhetri with 14 goals in the 2009-2010 season, failed to find the net even once in 10 ISL games last year though he finished in the champion side Atletico de Kolkata.

“Last year, I did not play as a striker at all, I played on the wing, as a left half. This time I’ve played as a striker in all the three games so far, so I got more chances to score,” said the 33-year-old on Friday evening.

FASTEST ISL GOAL

Rafi was off to a quick start this season, scoring in his Blasters debut and also slotted home the fastest-ever ISL goal with his 48th-second strike against Pune City early this week. All his four goals were exciting headers.

BEST HEADER OF THE BALL

“Rafi has been outstanding, I think he’s one of the best headers of the ball in the competition. His finishing with headers is excellent,” said the Blasters’ coach Trevor Morgan.

He now has more goals in the ISL than all his other teammates combined, with three coming from the rest.

Rafi had been a hit in Kerala during his playing days here but it was in Mumbai that his football career took wings.

Ten years ago, he left Kerala and joined Mahindra United. That move helped, for Mumbai’s Harwood League did not allow foreign strikers to play in its league and it offered Rafi plenty of chances, raising his confidence level.

And in the 2009-2010 season, while playing for Mahindra United, he was adjudged as the Football Players Association of India’s Player of the Year. A little later, he was playing for India.

The ISL is just in its second year but the Indian players have thrown up a pleasant surprise. The domestic players scored 23 goals in the ISL’s inaugural year last but this time, they have put in 20 goals even before the tournament reached the halfway mark.

“Our players have started believing in themselves, they are expecting more from themselves, they are raising the bar higher and higher…that’s the reason for this wonderful change,” explained Rafi. “And for those who have come in after the World Cup qualifiers, the international experience, against strong teams, has come in very handy in the ISL.”

The striker hopes to score four or five more goals and carry his team forward.

“We should be doing well in the coming games,” he said.

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