The 22-year-old midfielder also stressed that he feels the Blue Tigers can surprise Oman in the away match.

Still new to his career with the senior national team, Sahal Abdul Samad has been an instant hit in the Indian midfield. Bringing in his unique plethora of skills that include dribbling, feints and quick, sharp turns, Sahal captures the imagination of football fans as the perfect modern midfielder whose technique is dictated by panache and elegance.

It comes as little surprise that the 22-year-old midfielder idolises Argentine star Lionel Messi and has revealed that he loves to base his play along the lines of what Messi does.

Sahal got his first minutes with the Indian national team when he started in his debut match against Curacao in the King’s Cup in June. Four months have gone by and he is slowly becoming a regular under manager Igor Stimac and is expected to fulfil the role of midfield pivot for the Blue Tigers for many years.

The historic stalemate against Asian champions Qatar is still fresh in the mind of every football fan in the country. Sahal got to show his mettle when he combined with Udanta Singh on half chances while leading a counter charge against a pressing and dominant Qatari side.

“I love dribbling, gunning for a sprint etc and I love to do that wherever I play. I love to put through balls, penetrate the defence, attack with the ball. I’m a fan of Lionel Messi, I watch him a lot and try to learn as much as possible,” Sahal told PTI in an interview.

“That’s my way of playing as every player has their way of playing styles,” he added.

Sahal is one of the youngest players given a chance by new head coach Igor Stimac after the midfielder had a breakthrough season with the Kerala Blasters in the Indian Super League. Despite not getting called up for the AFC Asian Cup earlier in the year, Sahal has done well under Stimac who has shown he is not afraid of trusting in young players.

A natural flair in Sahal’s game is that the midfielder loves to hold on to the ball. However, that sometimes works against him as he gets dispossessed in a silly way, highlighting a clear area of his gameplay that he needs to work on and improve as a ball-holding player.

“At times, I hold the ball which is good and sometimes bad too. Sometimes, I lose possession in a silly way but everyone encourages me to play with the ball which gives me confidence and makes me happy as well,” he said.

He has taken a liking to the brand of football that Igor Stimac has been trying to impose under his tenure. Stimac’s possession-based football that focuses on building out from the back and playing neat, short passes to get to the opposition final third sees Sahal as the perfect fit to the style.

“In modern football, it’s all about keeping the ball and making the opponent run and get them tired. I, personally, and the whole team is liking the brand of football which we are playing,” said the current emerging player of the year for both the AIFF and the Indian Super League.

“Supporters also continue to cheer for us – everyone has been enjoying the brand of football which is a positive sign for us.”

Speaking about the historic draw against Qatar, the young midfielder said, “It was a historical moment. I can proudly say that it was one of the best matches of my career. This achievement has brought in much-needed confidence to the entire team.”

“After earning this crucial point, we have to make sure of winning the next two games (against Bangladesh and Afghanistan). Then only we will get the fighting spirit to work further and proceed. Now, we know what we are capable of and how much we can improve. Personally, I think we can surprise them (Oman).”

“The coach has taught us to be realistic and know the opponents minutely. He wanted us to focus on our defensive structure without forgetting to attack.

“Above all, he asked us to enjoy the game. Sometimes, under the pressure from the opponents, we forget to enjoy the game but it should not happen.”