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‘Morocco inspired us to create history,’ says Indian football coach

Apeejay School, Kharghar’s football team won the CBSE Clusters West Zone tournament keeping a clean sheet all throughout



To win individually is one thing but it is an altogether different feeling when one wins as a team. And no better timing than to win your school’s first-ever CBSE Cluster football trophy during the FIFA World Cup season.

Yes, Apeejay School, Kharghar football achieved the impossible dream! The team recently won the CBSE Clusters West Zone tournament by beating Navy Children’s School, Goa in a thriller of a final.

Speaking about the tournament, Kazim Siddiqui, the Coach, said, “This was the West Zone CBSE Clusters tournament, played among all the west zone CBSE schools in Maharashtra and Goa.  The tournament was held in Bhiwandi, Maharashtra. All the school teams had to stay there during the tournament (from December 1-6). It is the Under-19 boys who compete in this football tournament. In our team, the youngest player was from class 9 (15 years of age) and the seniors were obviously from class 12.”

Apeejay School, Kharghar not only created history by winning the trophy for the first time, but they also won it in some style. The Kharghar boys did not concede a single goal throughout the tournament. 

Giving his team the credit for the stellar performance, Mr Siddiqui said, “We played 5 matches in total during the tournament. I say this with immense pride that my boys kept a clean sheet throughout. We got a ‘bye’ in our first match (automatic qualification due to a forfeit from the opponent team), then won the second game by a score of 3 nil (3-0) and the quarter final by 2 nil (2-0). The semi-final and final were tough matches as expected. Both matches were a goalless draw and went on to extra time, where we won them in a penalty shootout.”

It is indeed rightly said by Edson Arantes do Nascimento, commonly known as ‘Pele’ that “Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and most of all, love of what you are doing.”

Apeejay Kharghar’s triumph, similarly, is the result of almost a year’s training. Mr. Siddique mentioned, “Making and managing the team was a difficult task, keeping in view the exams of the students and also parental pressure at times. We have been training since the beginning of this year. All our teams across different age groups train together. But we trained exclusively for this tournament since last month. We practiced for 2 hours daily.” 

“I have trained the boys in tactical and technical football understanding, match awareness, position sense, counter attack drills and of course in physical fitness,” said Coach Siddiqui. 

He further added, “We had a lot of senior class 12 students in the squad and also young boys from the junior classes. The seniors treated the younger players like brothers, so it was a strong team, a solid unit that went on to win the championship. The boys followed my advice on diet, daily routine and exercise, they chose discipline and prepared for the target in mind.”

Finally, the team won during the FIFA World Cup season. So, one had to ask the coach about it. Kazim sir replied, “Morocco’s performance inspired us the most. Our school did not have any pre-history in the CBSE football tournament. We were the underdogs yet we proved our mettle and emerged as the champions.”

While the coach is the kingmaker, it is the eleven kings on the field who win the matches to bring home the cup. Apeejay Kharghar footballers left an outstanding impression on the Bhiwandi pitch. 

Kushal Singha won the Player Of The Tournament award. He is a class 12 engineering student and a defence service aspirant.  Delighted with his team’s win, Kushal told us, “I want to join the defence forces. And guess what! I am a defender with the school football team as well. CBSE Clusters was a great experience for us all. This is the first time we were travelling to play in a tournament. And I think we are the first Apeejay School to win this coveted trophy. ”

On his individual performance Kushal remarked, “I play as a centre-back and my favourite defender is Real Madrid’s defence legend Sergio Ramos. So, I tried my best to play like him, imbibing his mentality, strength and leadership skills. My best moment however came in the final. We were playing at a nil-nil (0-0) scoreline. Suddenly, towards the end of the game, we were under pressure in a 2 versus 1 situation. I was alone in the defence. I knew that if their players beat me, they would get a clear chance at the goal. So, I went all in for the ball and tackled very hard. I won the ball and cleared it rapidly, saving a potential shot at goal. It was an awesome moment for my team. Later, I was also among the penalty takers in the final. I was the first shooter and I scored!”

Atibhu Arya won the Best Goalkeeper award for keeping a clean sheet throughout the tournament. The achievement itself is remarkable, as all football lovers would understand , but what is more remarkable is Atibhu’s passion towards the game. He had an adventurous anecdote that tells all that Indian football has a bright future ahead. 

The Kharghar ‘Lev Yashin’ or perhaps now ‘Dibu’ Martinez said, “ I was ill when Kazim sir told me that the team would have to travel to Bhiwandi for the tournament.  I was not at all in a condition to play football and our team too had 9 players at that time. So, my teammates requested me a lot to join the squad as and when I get fit. I had this voice inside me that I would have to play and our team had to win this cup. But my father did not permit me to participate. So, on the day of travel to Bhiwandi, after my father left for office, I convinced my mother and left for Bhiwandi with the team. I made that leap of faith for my love for football.“

Speaking about his spectacular performance, he said, “My best moment was during the penalty shootouts. I saved three penalties in the semis and made three back to back saves in the final. It was a great moment for me. I was fully trained in making dives and had also trained a lot on my reflexes using cricket balls catch drills. I watch goalkeepers a lot. My favourite goalkeeper is Amrinder Singh in India and David De Gea otherwise. I learn a lot from them.”

 However, it is the captain who faces the pressures head on, carries the team forward and in the end gets the apt reward, the prized opportunity of lifting the cup ahead of everyone else. 

Captain Vatsalya Joshi had a great performance in the tournament. Speaking about his time at the turf, the skipper mentioned, “I play as a central midfielder (trying to emulate the young CR7). We had a great squad and a great performance as a team this tournament. The first match ‘bye’ gave us a chance to rest on the opening day. It took off the initial pressure. We then had a short training practice in the evening. This helped us become comfortable with the ground and the ball.” 

On what made his team a champion, Captain Joshi mentioned, “The on field communication during the game was crucial. We guided each other with calls on the pitch regarding the passes and player movements. We constantly reminded each other not to panic. Kazim sir kept reminding us from the sidelines to play as a team and confidently. The goalkeeper was guiding the defenders, the defenders were guiding us midfielders and we in turn guided the center forwards. It was a total team effort.” 

The skipper added, “Also, I was a shooter in both penalty shootouts. I stepped up as the third shooter and scored in the shootout both times. This championship win is a dream come true for our team.”

Arijit Roy is a young correspondent at Apeejay Newsroom. He has done his masters in English literature from Delhi University and has a book of poems published by Writers Workshop India. He can be reached at [email protected]