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Nikhil Raj named in Igor Stimac's 23 men U-23 AFC Asia Cup qualifiers squad

The young player from Bengaluru has been named in the final squad of the U-23 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers.

Nikhil Raj named in Igor Stimacs 23 men U-23 AFC Asia Cup qualifiers squad

Siddharth Mishra

Updated: 20 Oct 2021 7:24 AM GMT

Kickstart FC is slowly taking shape to become one of Bangalore's best football clubs, earlier this year one of their players Nikhil Raj signed for the Indian Super League team Odisha FC, and now he is taking strides towards representing India. Nikhil Raj was named in Igor Stimac's squad for the U-23 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers, the first step towards playing for India.

Nikhil was first spotted at the Kickstart Foundation's initiative at Murphy Town grounds when he came for the U-18 selection for the Holland trip. In the first match of that trip, he scored a spectacular goal in the game's third minute. His wonderful performances on the pitch caught the eye of many foreign scouts. After Holland, he accompanied Kickstart FC coach Laxman Bhattarai in the U-19 trials in Esbjerg, Denmark. He has been a part of the Karnataka team at two editions of the Santosh Trophy and was awarded the Best Midfielder award in the BDFA Super Division 2020 season.

" When I saw Nikhil playing for the first time in 2016, I knew he had that X factor in him to be a great player. He came for trails for U-18 selection for the Holland trip in Kickstart JP Nagar. I could see how composed he was as a player and his style of play was unique. So I selected him for the Holland trip. He played his best games in Holland and was scouted by few teams. The same year I took him for U-19 trails in Esbjerg Denmark and he did very well there. Since then It's been 5 years he is been training under me in KickstartFC. In these 5 years, he has developed to be a complete player. He is athletic and has all the ingredients to be a great player. He's a humble guy and he's not changed in all honesty from when he was 16. He is always hungry to train more and has that never-give-up attitude which makes him different from other players in the team. The passion and sense of learning that he has, has always fascinated me. Coaching him over the past 5 years has been an immense pleasure for me. He never failed to amaze me with his skills and desire to play every day. Whatever he has accomplished now is due to his passion and spirit. He is always hungry to learn more and that's what I like the most about him as a player." said Kickstart FC coach Laxman Bhattarai on Nikhil, and how he has developed as a player over the years.

" He is ready now, it's time for him to go and showcase his talent in bigger leagues. Playing for India is a dream of every Indian player and today he is selected to play for India's U-23 national team. It's dream come true for Him and for all of us. It's a proud moment for Nikhil for all of us in KickstartFC. I wish Nikhil all the best and want him to give his best for the national team. In the coming years, I want to see him playing for the Indian senior national team. If he focuses and gives his best performance this coming season, I see that happening very soon. " added Laxman on what is in store for Nikhil in the future, and what can he achieve in the future.

The success of the club has been directly proportional, and the Nikhil moving from a BDFA Super Division club to directly an Indian Super League team shows how much talent does the boy have, and the entire football fraternity expects him to do well and succeed in the top tier of Indian Football.

Nikhil Raj (right) in his training camp for Odisha FC in Goa for the ISL.(Image Source: OFC Media)

"Nikhil was a part of the Kickstart Foundation, and there we laid the right things for him. From the foundation, he has moved to the pedestrian, to the India U-23 team, and to the ISL. This intermediary step is a great achievement for him, but he has to reach the pinnacle, where he will represent the Indian National Team. He has the potential to play in Europe, and this might be his ultimate destination." said Shekar Rajan, the co-founder of Kickstart FC on Nikhil's achievement and how far he has to go in the world of football.

Shekar and Laxman have been an integral part of Nikhil's journey, and have seen him grow as a football player. It is a special achievement for Nikhil, and the Indian football nation is waiting to see what all tricks he has up his sleeves, as he takes the field in UAE for the U-23 qualifiers.

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