Bengaluru is not the first place that comes to mind when you think of football In India, but the city is home to two players who have made it to the squad of 21, for the country’s first FIFA World Cup.
Defenders Sanjeev Stalin and Hendry Antonay feature in coach Luis Norton de Matos’s scheme of things for the U-17 World Cup, being hosted by India. India will play the United States in their first ever football World Cup in Delhi on Friday.
Known for his dead ball abilities, Sanjeev first came into the spotlight when he scored from a free kick in the AFC-16 Championship, during a match against UAE in 2016.
Sanjeev who comes from a humble background developed interest for the game from his father who dreamt of his son becoming a successful professional footballer.
“In fact, he introduced me to the sport and my father had a dream of seeing me play football for the nation”, Sanjeev told AIFF’s Media team, adding that he considers his father as his favourite player even though he never played professionally.
“My family always wanted me to play football and represent the nation. I am thankful to god that I have a family which supports me through thick and thin. My father made everything possible for me in life and he has been my biggest inspiration to never give up in life,” Sanjeev said.
Born on January 1, 2001, in Bengaluru, Sanjeev joined Chandigarh Football Academy at the age of 10.
This, after former Indian football star Jamshid Nassiri spotted him at a tournament in Bengaluru and suggested that he shift base.
"Firstly, I'd like to believe my stint at the Chandigarh academy is the biggest factor in contributing to my development so far. The coaches were very supportive, as they wanted not just me, but every player in the academy to progress,” Stalin said in an interview to Goal.com.
After being told to pack his bags under former coach Nicolai Adam post the preparatory trip to Europe, Hendry can thank his stars that he has managed to retain his place in the final 21-member squad.
But, soon after Nicolai resigned following allegations of abusing squad members, Hendry found the backing of the new head coach.
Hendry picked up his footballing boots in Bengaluru’s Austin Town like the rest of his peers in the locality. He soon caught the eye of Sports Authority of India coach Mary Victoria when he took part in a ‘Come and Play Scheme’.
“He always wanted to be a football player, he used to not concentrate on studies, he just wanted to play football,” his twin brother Ajay Alex told Scroll.
Incidentally, both the brothers joined the city-based Ozone FC.
“At that age only, they had excellent footwork and Hendry understood and grasped things immediately,” Mary told Scroll.
It was in Ozone, under the club’s patronage, that he played football professionally and moved to Pune FC to play for their U-15 I-League. During his two-year stint at the club, he was also part of the Karnataka state team at the U-14 level and broke into the national team in the same category before joining Pune FC.
"I did go to Pune FC since they have exceptional facilities and a lot of international players. My family and myself were looking for opportunities and so Pune FC made sense. When I was there I got the chance to attend an India camp," he told Goal.com.