Nehru Cup winner Denzil Franco eyes long India career

Elated with the Nehru Cup success, India right wing back Denzil Franco is hoping for a long and successful career at the international level.

The Churchill Brothers defender regards the Nehru Cup triumph as his highest honour in Indian football.

The recent Nehru Cup title was a third consecutive one for the Indian team but the first for Saligao-based Denzil. This year’s win is considered even more special as the Indian team defeated the mighty Cameroon side on penalties in the final.

Critics, however, claim that this is no big feat as Cameroon had probably fielded their second or third string side. Nevertheless, the result does force a positive impact to the nation at large – a nation that is ranked as low as 169th as per the FIFA ranking list.

Twenty-seven-year-old Denzil who was part of the Indian team that won the South Asian Football Federation Cup in 2009, reckons the Nehru Cup victory as his biggest achievement. "It was a great experience. The Nehru Cup was a great achievement in my personal life because it’s one of the most prestigious tournaments in Indian football and I am looking forward to a good career at the international level," Denzil told The Navhind Times.

The defender played a crucial role in the final as he was one of the penalty scorers for the champions. His attempt hit the post before making its way home. "Yeah, I was kind of worried and shaky when the ball hit the post. But God was with me. I just thought of placing it in one angle and I just followed that. I was very confident, not overconfident though. I have faced such situations in the past so I was pretty sure I could do it. But yes a little nervousness was there as it was a high-profile tournament and the entire stadium was behind me. It was a pressure situation," he revealed.

The entire Nehru Cup campaign posed challenging situations to Denzil. The Goan lad had to fight for the right wing back position with Nirmal Chettri who had already made a mark for himself in the squad. "I feel it was a very challenging role for me. Nirmal had already played before with the Indian team in that position. They won the SAFF Cup and then he was also in the AFC Challenge squad where I could not make it. So, all the officials and management were eyeing Nirmal to provide his services at that position. He was the automatic choice. I did not lose my cool and whichever opportunity came my way, I grabbed it," Denzil explained.

Denzil cannot only call himself a proud Nehru Cup winner but also consider himself among the few lucky ones to have trained under India’s Dutch coach Wim Koevermans. Denzil was fascinated with Koevermans’ scheme of things. "He had different strategies, different way of playing the game, especially the ball possession strategy. The very first day when he met us he told us that he does not like playing long balls. So, most of the drills before matches and at training sessions were to do with keeping the ball at the feet," Denzil explained enthusiastically.

The most remarkable stat for Goa during this Nehru Cup was that five Goans were part of the national team. Besides Denzil, Clifford Miranda, Francis Fernandes, Lenny Rodrigues and Anthony Pereira also played their roles convincingly. All the Goan heroes made their appearance regularly in the tournament and had major contributions. "It is a great motivation when you have 5 players from your state in the national team. In the past as well Goans have been doing well in the national team. Climax Lawrence, Samir Naik and Mahesh Gawli have done a great job for the Indian team. And now we are filling in their footsteps you can say. It is a big thing to play for your nation. For me it is a dream come true. I feel youngsters should look up to the international players from their state and have a target to play in the national team," Denzil concluded.

A bright future certainly awaits the former Mahindra United defender. However, Denzil believes in living in the present. His two-year deal with Churchill Brothers came to an end at the end of the last season. Denzil has extended the contract to one more year. Asked if he is looking for options outside Goa or India, he said, "At the moment I am happy at Churchill Brothers and I am hoping to play here till the end of my career."

Denzil is currently with his club at Siliguri to play the Federation Cup – a title that Churchill Brothers have been long aspiring for. [NT]