Naorem Mahesh Singh is an expressive player on the pitch, but off it, he shies away from showing his emotions. Scoring for one’s country is always gratifying for a player, but there is always a special place reserved for the first one.
Mahesh scored his first international goal for India in the second-half against Nepal in the 2023 SAFF Championship on Saturday. Yet, apart from his few seconds of celebration post-scoring, which included a very public acknowledgement towards skipper Sunil Chhetri, only a select few know how the Manipur-born winger is feeling.
Getting a lot of shoutouts and requests to share his feelings after the match, all the media personnel got was a sheepish smile as Mahesh hurried towards the team bus, away from the cameras and the attention.
For an Indian side that was mostly unimaginative against Nepal in the first half, Mahesh was a livewire down the left flank. Getting his first start in the SAFF Championships, the 24-year-old made every second count– with his electrifying runs and dribbles on the left flank. The final product was lacking at times, but it was a burden he shared with his team during the entirety of the first half.
The Mahesh-Chhetri combo
Mahesh’s first goal for the Blue Tigers in the 70th minute wasn’t his only major contribution to the match.
Nine minutes before the winger’s special moment, he served the ball on a plate for Chhetri to grab his 91st international goal.
The move started with some lovely interplay between Mahesh and Sahal- something that happened in the first half too, without any result.
Sahal released Mahesh down the left flank with a deft touch, and the latter got behind the Nepal backline. Having a look up, he saw the familiar figure of Chhetri. The skipper asked for the ball, and the winger delivered. At the time of the cross, when Mahesh released the ball from his feet, Chhetri was behind the Nepal backline. But, the weight of the cross was to perfection and by the time it reached the six-yard box, the lethal Chhetri was there to tap it in the bottom-right corner. Immediately after scoring, Chhetri pointed to Mahesh as the latter ran to hug his captain.
After that, it was Mahesh’s turn to shine. India stitched another effective attacking move, which saw Sahal release Chhetri inside the box. Keeping his cool, the India No. 11 got his shot away only for it to be saved by Kiran Limbu and then rebound off the post. For a moment, it looked like Nepal would get away unscathed, but Mahesh was there to bundle the ball inside the net with his head.
India won against Nepal and qualified for the semifinals. All in all, it was a memorable night for Mahesh and the India team.
From the wings to the centre stage
Mahesh has come a long way since his youth days in Shillong Lajong. From climbing the rungs and getting promoted to its first team, having quiet spells at Kerala Blasters and Sudeva Delhi, to becoming a mainstay in the East Bengal attack, the graph only seems to be rising for the 24-year-old.
If one goes to any social media post of East Bengal related to Mahesh or even a general one, there is a high chance they would see fans crowd the comment section with the hashtag, ‘#extendmahesh’. It’s the fans demanding the club authorities extend Mahesh’s contract.
The Red and Gold fans know what a gem they have in their team- someone whose contribution extends beyond goals and assists. From the club level, Mahesh has now made the jump to the national stage.
It took eight appearances for Mahesh to score his first goal for the Blue Tigers, and by the looks of it, he is just getting started. His wait in the wings is over. It is time for the centre stage, under the spotlight.
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