He remained the lone bright spot in India’s disappointing campaign. Team India did not win any matches in the on going under 17 World Cup, but goalkeeper Dheeraj Moriangthem was the cynosure of all eyes with his sterling show under the bar. The 16-year old came with at great saves in all three of the host nation’s matches and impressed a host of admirers with his stopping skills and uncanny anticipation.
For somebody who has been the last line in defence of Team India’s defence, Dheeraj has epitomized hardwork and determination. Ever since his childhood In Mizoram’s Moirang district a stone’s throw from capital Imphal, Dheeraj wanted to become a famous sportsman. Suprisingly, Dheeraj was a good badminton player and he started playing it when he was eight years old. Dheeraj’s father, Romit said that,”He was good at badminton and we all thought that he end up playing badminton..
But when he was 10 years old, Dheeraj decided to switch to football. Though the exact reason remains unclear, one of the main reason seemed to be easy access which football had. “It was quite easy for me to play football as there were only limIted badminton courts in Mloriang” said Dheeraj. After taking to the sport, Dheeraj was determined to carve a niche for himself.
It was his huge frame that prompted his school team coach to test him under the goal. “I think my tall frame is what prompted his club school team coach made me to play as a goalkeeper. And believe me I took to goalkeeping as a fish takes to water. Even though I am a reticent person, I think it was my good frame and fearless attitude that served me in good stead as a ,” said Dheeraj.
Once he announced his presence felt at the state level, Dheeraj was determined to work that much harder to make it to the national team.
“I was very motivated and focused to make it to Team India. I knew that to make the state team was good enough but was hungry to become custodian for Team India. My father(Romit) was always there to encourage me and correct my mistakes,” he added.
Soon enough, he was playing as a goalkeeper for Team India in under 16 section and that too when he was just 13 year old. “To be a goalkeeper for the under 16 team at the age of 13, shows just how good Dheeraj was at that time. Not only was he the best in India but also announced his talent as a very good goalkeeper,” said an AIFF official who preferred to remain anonymous.
It was during the under Dheeraj’s reign as goalkeeper that India won the under-16 SAFF Cup in 2013.defeating arch rivals Nepal in the final. His best was to come in the under 16 AFC Championships in Goa last year that he stopped two penalties against South African team Black Aces. “This performance gave me a lot of confidence as a goalkeeper. I knew that I could hold my own against the best in the world,” he added.
On his brand of goalkeeping, Dheeraj said: «I like to keep a balance between aggressive goalkeeping where I dominate the box and composed goalkeeping. You have to pick your moments and choose what type of goalkeeping will suit the moment.
“Sometimes the aggressive goalkeeping can lead to difficulties and even conceding a goal where composed goalkeeping could have worked and vice versa. For a goalkeeper, both ways of goalkeeping are important.”