KOCHI: Dheeraj Singh has already been involved in some of the most historic moments in Indian football in recent times despite being only twenty years of age.
He was the first-choice goalkeeper when India played in the FIFA U-17 World in 2017. And the Manipuri goalkeeper is now keeping the sticks for FC Goa as they are the first Indian club to participate in the group stages of the AFC Champions League football.
After the Gaurs kept two consecutive clean-sheets, Dheeraj drew praise from all quarters including from opposition coaches for some stunning saves as Goa surprised everyone by showing that they can hold their own against some of Asia's best.
The youngster however wants to stay grounded and is only focused on improving himself rather than getting carried away in all the praise.
"It was a good opportunity for me especially (to be playing in the Champions League). It is my duty to save the ball but if you look at the matches, I have made some errors. We play as a team and if you make mistakes, we are there to support each other," said Dheeraj prior to their match against Iranian giants Persepolis FC on Tuesday.
It will be their biggest challenge yet for Goa in the Champions League as Persepolis were runners-up in last year's edition and are one of the Asian powerhouses.
The young goalkeeper believes that it is an opportunity for the Goan outfit to make an impression.
"It was very important and a good platform for me and for the whole FC Goa. We are not just representing FC Goa but we are representing the whole country," he said.
Ever since Dheeraj came into the limelight after the U-17 World Cup, he was expected to shine at the club level but things didn't go according to plan initially.
The lanky goalkeeper had a good stint with Indian Arrows in the I-League before he chose to switch to Kerala Blasters in the Indian Super League. The move bore mixed results as his lack of experience meant that he had an indifferent campaign.
While the keeper was still error-prone due to his young age, his potential was unquestionable which led to a transfer to Kolkata outfit ATK.
It was a challenging phase for Dheeraj as he struggled for game time.
"I moved to ATK (Mohun Bagan) and I played just one game, but for a young player it is important to keep on playing matches to build confidence," he said.
Goa came calling as they decided to place their trust in him and Dheeraj he has only grown from strength to strength since then.
"Luckily, I got a transfer to Goa in January. All I needed is trust from the coach and all I've been doing is working hard. It was a learning process for me and you don't get everything in a year or two years. It was a big learning process for me," he said.
Another clean sheet would raise the ever increasing stocks of Dheeraj even further.