Calcutta: At one stage, it seemed as if Naseem Akhtar’s stint with the city’s major clubs was done and dusted. Sidelines were the only place where he used to be seen even a year ago.
But Saturday evening brought Naseem back to the limelight with a bang. For sure, Mohammedan Sporting’s IFA Shield triumph would not have been possible without his two wonderful saves at the penalty shootout.
“After the semis, the coach had made me practice full throttle, telling me that I may play a part in the final... And when that time arrived, he told me ‘Go out there and enjoy’. I, then, told (assistant coach) Fuja Tope that this would be my time now… Am really glad that I could help our club win the trophy… It’s yet to sink in.
“We now have two trophies in the season. So, in that sense, we are Calcutta’s best team at the moment,” he said on Sunday. Naseem’s introduction in the 118 th minute was certainly not a gamble because the first choice goalkeeper Luis Baretto had sustained an ankle injury and the team preferred not to risk him for the penalty shootout.
“Luis had a swelling in his ankle. We have a tight schedule ahead with an I-League match on Wednesday. So, our coach didn’t want to risk him for the shoot-out.
“But you also got to accept that Naseem is a tie-breaker specialist,” explained Nabi, whose inclusion has further strengthened the team’s midfield.
For his part, Luis too has no regrets on being sidelined before the shoot-out. “With barely two days to go before we resume our I-League campaign, continuing to play could well have aggravated my injury.
“So, I’m not all disappointed (on being replaced). It’s all part of the game. But all said and done, hats off to Naseem!” Luis beamed.
Meanwhile, the condition of lensman Swapan Mahapatra, who was hit on the head by a firecracker during Saturday’s final, is improving.