The Senior Indian Men’s National Team is a relatively young squad with an average age of around 26. Out of the 26 players in the current squad in Doha at the AFC Asian Cup Qatar 2023, three have represented India in the FIFA U-17 World Cup in 2017, while three others have represented India along with them, at various age-group international matches.
Rahul KP is one of the players who have had the privilege of playing in the U-17 World Cup, and is now also in the AFC Asian Cup with the senior team.
“The Asian Cup is a similar experience to that of the U-17 World Cup in India. But this is at a much higher level,” said Rahul KP to the-aiff.com. “It’s really nice, and they pay attention to so many details, which are also aimed at ensuring our safety. It’s really special to see and experience all this.
“The World Cup experience was also special, and I am really thankful to the Federation for it. We stayed together as a troop and played for a long time, and learned so many things,” said Rahul. “I still get goosebumps when I think of those times.”
While Rahul has played for the national teams at almost every junior level, he has had to bide his time to get his senior national team debut, which came in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, where he played against Singapore in 2022. However, his most memorable moment with the Blue Tigers came arguably at the Asian Games last year, when he soared up the right flank against hosts China to beat the goalkeeper at the near post.
“That was a magical moment for me. It still gives me butterflies in my stomach. I was playing with a lot of rage that day, and I used that to my advantage. We went on to lose that game 1-5, but that was a special goal for me,” said Rahul.
Making the cut to be in the final 26 for the AFC Asian Cup, however, has been an achievement that Rahul rates quite highly, as the 23-year-old pinches himself about the prospects.
“I still get butterflies in my stomach thinking about it, but they are what keep me alive. To break through to this team, and to learn from the seniors like Chhetri bhai, Gurpreet, Sandesh Jhingan, Brandon Fernandes and the others, is really special for me,” he said.
“When you’re in the junior team, you’re always trying to get to the senior side. But once you’re in the senior team, you are tested every day. You have to always be on your toes to prove yourself and stay disciplined,” said Rahul. “There’s always focus on the details, and you’re always pushing the limits you knew yesterday, and forging new boundaries for yourself.”