Doha (Qatar), Sep 8 : Making his comeback to National Team colours after a long injury layoff, 22-year-old forward Ashique Kuruniyan produced an outstanding performance for the Blue Tigers against Oman.
"There was only one thing on my mind - I have to play like it is the last game of my life," the fleet-footed Ashique was quoted as saying by AIFF. "I had decided that I will give my all against Oman. After the injury, I never thought I would get my chance to come back so early and so, I was motivated to leave everything out on the pitch."
"There was some pressure as I was making my return, and that too in a World Cup qualifier match. However, the support from the fans was something incredible and it really charged up all the players and pushed us to give our best."
Ashique, who made his Blue Tigers debut against Chinese Taipei last year, marked his 13th national team appearance on Thursday -- after having missed the cut for the King's Cup and Hero Intercontinental Cup due to a knee injury.
Talking about the recovery process, he said that it was "tough" but the call-up for the preparatory camp in Goa came in a "massive boost" for him.
"I was recovering at home, and it was taking time. I had about a month's rest and then used to practice every morning in the ground, followed by gym sessions in the evening. It was a tough process but I was pushing myself as much as I could," he recalled.
"But when my name was included in the probables for the camp in Goa, it was a huge boost for me. I met the Head Coach (Igor Stimac) for the first time and he asked me about my injury, and motivated me a lot. We had a great camp there. I can see that all the players are happy and united, and that the team is improving steadily."
Coach Stimac has spoken many times about inculcating a possession-based style of play in the team and has given numerous players their senior team debuts since taking charge in May. Ashique opened up about his experience of training with the new faces for the first time and said that he is confident that the team will continue to grow.
"All the new players are very good, fresh and of very high-quality. I am sure that in the coming months, we will keep improving. I like the style of play we are trying to develop and there are a number of ball-players in the team, which will help us keep more possession in matches and play with more confidence," the 22-year-old said.
On Saturday, the Blue Tigers arrived in Doha to a warm reception as they get set to take on Qatar in their second qualifier on Tuesday. The match between the two teams will take place at the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium and will kick-off at 10pm. (UNI)