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Arata is eligible to play for India

New Delhi: Pune FC midfielder Arata Izumi could be the first foreign footballer to don the national team jersey after the Japanese player became an Indian citizen last year.

Originally a Japanese citizen, who was one of East Bengal’s foreign recruits in 2006, Arata has now been shortlisted for the Indian team by national coach Wim Koevermans.

Arata applied for an Indian passport and finally received it in November 2012. He now holds an Indian name, Neelkanth Khambholja. He has married an Indian girl, Shweta Manerikar.

“I have been informed that Arata has been shortlisted by Koevermans,” Pune FC coach Derek Pereira told The Telegraph. The former India defender, however, was not sure whether Arata would be there in the team for the match against Palestine or AFC Challenge Cup.

Born to an Indian father and Japanese mother with an Indian birth certificate, Arata became a Japanese citizen after his parents were separated. He first played for Singapore club Albirex Nagata and then for Mitsubishi Migushima before joining East Bengal. Arata then moved to Mahindra United and was later recruited by Pune FC as a foreign player.

A few years ago, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) chalked out a plan to request footballers of Indian origin playing abroad to play for the national team. The idea fizzled out soon after the sports ministry said only players with Indian passports were eligible to represent the nation.

In 2010, an attempt was made to include the England-based Michael Chopra for the Indian team in the Asian Cup final rounds. While former India coach Bob Houghton was keen to include Chopra, the AIFF officials pointed out that it would take months for Chopra to acquire an Indian passport.

The government’s insistence that a national team player should possess an Indian passport hit Indian tennis the most as players like Prakash Amritraj and Sikha Uberoi became ineligible to play for India.