Returning from a long injury lay-off, midfielder Ashique Kuruniyan says "I played like it was the last game of my life" during India's 1-2 defeat against Oman in their FIFA World Cup Qualifiers opener in Guwahati.
The 22-year-old produced an impressive performance for the Blue Tigers against Oman, creating a number of chances with his speed. It was he who won the free-kick that led to India's only goal in the match played on September 5.
"There was only one thing on my mind - I have to play like it is the last game of my life," Kuruniyan told the AIFF website.
"I had decided that I will give my all against Oman. After the injury, I never thought I will get my chance to come back so early and so, I was motivated to leave everything out on the pitch."
The youngster was making his first appearance for the senior team since January after suffering a knee injury.
He spoke about the atmosphere during the game in Guwahati, stating that it "charged up" the entire team.
"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," he said ahead of India's second match of the World Cup qualifiers against Asian champions Qatar on Tuesday.
Kuruniyan, who made his India debut against Chinese Taipei last year, marked his 13th national team appearance in the Oman game after missing the King's Cup and Intercontinental Cup due to the knee injury.
Talking about the recovery process, he said that it was "tough" but the call-up for the preparatory camp in Goa was 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.
Coach Igor Stimac has spoken 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.
Kuruniyan 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," he said.
On Saturday, India arrived here to a warm reception ahead of their match against Asian champions and 2022 World Cup hosts Qatar.
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