Monday, June 27

Anwar Ali scores for India, four years after heart trouble stopped his career

Anwar Ali has scored for India.

A footballer scoring for his national team is special alright, but it happens all the time. A right-footed centre-back finishing into the top corner with a half volley off his left foot, less common.

What makes this so special, though, is this: Four years ago, Ali was diagnosed with a heart condition known as Hypertrophic Myocardiopathy (where the heart muscle wall becomes abnormally thick and affects the pumping of blood). Doctors decided he couldn’t play again and the All India Football Federation medical committee barred him from even practicing with a professional club.

Four years after seeing his playing career effectively ended on health grounds, Anwar Ali has scored for India.

That is not just uncommon, it is almost unprecedented. But then Anwar Ali specialises in almost-never-happens.

In 2017, Ali was a rising star and a key member of India’s U-17 World Cup squad. India has not seen many ball-playing centre-backs and Ali’s rise was met with great excitement. He played for Indian Arrows and was bought by ISL side Mumbai City. And then, he was diagnosed…

Spending two years in limbo without kicking a ball, Ali returned to action in early 2021, playing a bit in the little-known state leagues of Punjab and Himachal Pradesh before playing in the I-League qualifiers and then the Durand Cup for Delhi FC. Finally, another ISL side, FC Goa, took a punt on him, and he made his first division debut in January 2022. And he bossed the game. And the next, and the next. He played 90 minutes in all the ten matches of the second half of the season.

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Having proved his fitness, and that his ability on (and off) the ball had not waned, he was picked for the national team by Igor Stimac. He played three friendlies before being picked as the starting center-back for the crucial AFC Asian Cup qualifiers. Job very much on the line, Stimac believed in Ali almost as much as Ali believed in himself. He was consistently solid, and comfortable on the ball, in the opening two matches (Cambodia and Afghanistan), and then this goal, against Hong Kong, the group leaders (at the time of kickoff).

The goal itself was lovely – superb passing from India’s midfield winning a corner straight from kickoff, the set-piece whipped into the box where Ali seized on a loose ball and smashed it home – but it’s the goalscorer that makes it sweeter still. You see, the best stories don’t need embellishing, nor do they need fancy adjectives. The courage, the will, the character… They speak for themselves.

Anwar Ali has scored for India. How beautiful is that?

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