A Malayali boy has been handpicked by Brazilian superstar footballer Neymar Jr to play alongside him in a global five-a-side event to be held in Qatar.
Kuwait-based Kannur boy Shahzad Mohammed Rafi, 17, has been announced as one of the seven freestyle footballers selected from an online global talent hunt dubbed '2021 Red Bull Neymar Jr's Five' that had hundreds of entries from the world over.
PSG superstar Neymar was among the seven panelists that scrutinized 60-second clips of footballing skills submitted by Shahzad and other contestants on Instagram
A second Indian, Abhinash Shanmugam, hailing from Bengaluru has also found a place in the final seven. The other freestylers selected by Neymar are Jaimy Schallenbergh (Belgium), Leon Gillies Mannes (Norway), Simon Gustavo (Brazil), Stanley Godian (Nigeria) and Giorgio Montalti (Italy).
Shahzad is listed as an entry from Kuwait as his family is settled there.
“Everyone at home is excited about it,” Shahzad told Onmanorama from his family home in Kannur, where he has been stuck for months since arriving for his sister's wedding.
Shahzad, who is a fan of Manchester United legend Cristiano Ronaldo, is eager to meet and play alongside Neymar who he says is a huge inspiration.
He says futsal and seven-a-side games have always been an attraction, but it was a chance meeting with popular French freestyle footballer Sean Garnier a few years ago that became the turning point.
"After meeting Sean Garnier and seeing his skills I became more attracted to freestyle football and now my dream is to be a professional freestyle footballer. I also want to play for the Indian national futsal team," said Shahzad. He expects the event with Neymar to be held in December this year or early next year.