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3 Dabang Mumbai youngsters to watch out for

Nilakanta Sharma goal celebrations
Nilakanta Sharma exults after scoring the winner against Ranchi Rays

Dabang Mumbai may not have been able to clinch one of the four semi-final berths at the 2016 Coal India Hockey India League (HIL), but its youngsters surely left an indelible mark. Confidence, passion and fighting spirit were shown in abundance by the trio of Nilakanta Sharma, Gurjant Singh and Affan Yousuf as they contributed during some keys moments of The Alphas’ campaign this year. Without a doubt, they established once again that India’s future in hockey looks very promising.

Here’s a look at the trio’s exploits at the 2016 HIL:

Nilakanta Sharma

Swift on his feet and in his thinking, 20-year-old Nilakanta Sharma has been the standout youngster of Dabang Mumbai this season. After being a part of the gold medal-winning Indian squad at the 2014 Sultan of Johor Cup, the Bhopal player has shown a desire to constantly learn and improve, which justifies his fast rise. Even Dabang Mumbai’s head coach Jay Stacy pointed that out just a few days back.

“From our practice games, I found him to be improving, and so brought him into the squad. There are areas in his game which need to be worked on, but Nilakanta is young and has all the time,” Stacy said.

At the recently-concluded 2016 HIL, the midfielder was among the three Mumbai players who scored two field goals each, right after the German star Florian Fuchs. His talent was on full display against the defending champions Ranchi Rays during The Alphas’ league encounter at Mumbai.

After suffering four defeats on the trot, Mumbai was staring at another as the score was 3-4 in favour of the Rays. But it was Nilakanta’s confident strike off a pass from skipper Matthew Swann that put them into the lead. His efforts were rewarded with the ‘Best Goal’ and ‘Emerging Player of the Match’ awards after Mumbai’s victory.

Nilakanta came to his team’s rescue once more when The Alphas were trailing the Delhi Waveriders 2-3 at Delhi. His field goal gave the confidence to his teammates to add two more field goals that saw them win 8-3 in a record-breaking goal-scoring spree.

Gurjant Singh

Gurjant goa
Gurjant Singh celebrates his goal against Kalinga Lancers with Florian Fuchs

Just like Nilakanta Sharma, Gurjant Singh too contributed with two field goals to his team’s cause and was among the youngsters who impressed at the 2016 HIL. The forward hailing from Haryana, celebrated his 21st birthday during the tournament but his maturity at such a young age has been outstanding.

A keen student of the game, Gurjant has been catching the attention of hockey experts for quite some time and was selected to be a part of the U-21 Volvo International last year. The exposure trip shaped him up well for the Junior Asia Cup in November where India captured the yellow metal.

Gurjant’s exceptional skills and his ability to perform under pressure were visible during his HIL debut this year. He opened the scoring in the Alphas’ do-or-die battle against the Uttar Pradesh Wizards in their final league match and deservedly was bestowed upon the ‘Emerging Player of the Match’ award.

His quick pace came alive once more earlier in the league when the Mumbai franchise was tottering against the 2016 finalists Kalinga Lancers at home. He slotted home the ball from Florian Fuchs to even the score 4-4 versus the Lancers in a high-intensity match. The Alphas went on to lose it 4-6, but Gurjant’s natural flair was surely noteworthy.

Affan Yousuf

Affan goal
Affan Yousuf slides in to fire the ball into the empty net against UPW

Affan Yousuf found the net just once during the fourth edition of the HIL, but he was one of the most attacking young players during the entire league. Time and again, he wreaked havoc on the opposition goalkeeper and forced him into numerous saves.

Affan’s prowess at just the age of 21 is not surprising as hockey runs in his blood. The Bhopal boy is the son of former India international Mohammed Yousuf and is thus endowed with a potent attacking game. His hunger and capability to accelerate when the time is right, makes him such an integral part of the forward line.

Affan has also gained in a lot of valuable experience over the last couple of years. After being a part of the winning Indian team at the 2013 Sultan of Johor Cup, Affan made his international debut at the 2014 Hockey World League Final Round at home.

At the HIL auctions in September, Dabang Mumbai had bought him for US $53,000 and he repaid the faith with a wonderful goal against the Uttar Pradesh Wizards in the dying minutes of the game. Affan scooped up two ‘Emerging Player of Match’ awards this HIL and will certainly be one of the stars to look out for in the future.

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Edited by Staff Editor
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