Shillong, Mar 7: Having already represented the Indian U-16 national team, defender Halen Nongtdu (pictured) is already beginning to make his mark in the I-League, where he picked up the man-of-the-match award in the Indian Arrows’ 3-0 victory over NEROCA on Saturday.

Along with Nongtdu, the Arrows starting 11 featured midfielder Loitongbam Taison Singh and defender Amandeep — with the trio being a part of the U-16 national team that played four exposure matches in the United Arab Emirates in January.

On their return, they joined the Indian Arrows set-up in the  I-League and have gone from strength to strength after taking their respective bows at the senior level.

Talking about his experience so far, Nongtdu, who has played in four games thus far, stated that the Arrows is a “great platform” for players like him to further their development.

“Playing in the I-League is a big change for us as we are getting to play against senior professionals and foreigners. Coming from junior football to this level is a huge step up and here, it is much more physical and there is a lot more pressure with every match. However, we are learning and improving every day and I feel that this is a great platform for young players like us,” he said in conversation with the I-League website.

“Adapting to this level has been a challenge but thanks to the exposure and matches against top-quality opponents that we have received in the last few years, we have been able to make the transition smoothly. Training with the Arrows and playing in the I-League is really helping us a lot and we are all grateful for this amazing opportunity,” the 17-year-old opined.

Arrows head coach Venkatesh Shanmugam spoke about how the young guns have adapted well to the I-League challenge with support from all the players.

“The three boys from the U-16 national team have adapted well to our system and made the step up to the I-League confidently, with support from the whole squad. The maturity they have shown is impressive,” he said. “Naturally, there is a lot that they have to improve upon but the initial signs are very good. The experience they had gained from the recent international matches has been key.”

Their participation in the I-League is being seen by the national coaches as a step in the country’s preparation for the 2022 AFC U-19 qualifiers.

“It is great to see the pool of talent we have. The boys are progressing well and I am looking forward to more positive displays in the coming games,” Shanmugam said.

U-16 team coach Bibiano Fernandes, meanwhile, mentioned that it is encouraging for him to see his wards excel and hold their own against senior opposition.

“It is certainly very heartening to see these young boys do so well in their debut season at the senior level. They have grown a lot in the last few years with the exposure and experience they have gained by playing against top-level opposition and the I-League is a great opportunity for them to keep going onwards and upwards,” he quipped. “I have been following their matches in the I-League and it makes me very happy to see them do well for their teams. This is the next step in their development process and I hope they keeping moving forward with every game and reach their full potential.”

(I-League media file photo)

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