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Hockey: Johor Cup winner Manpreet winning hearts on and off the field

Nicknamed Korean, Manpreet led junior Indian men's team to win the Sultan of Johor Cup but lost his heart to Malaysian Illi Najwa Saddique.

Jaspreet Sahni | IBNLive Sportsjaspreet_sahni

Updated:October 1, 2013, 10:51 AM IST
Hockey: Johor Cup winner Manpreet winning hearts on and off the field
Nicknamed Korean, Manpreet led junior Indian men's team to win the Sultan of Johor Cup but lost his heart to Malaysian Illi Najwa Saddique.

New Delhi: The captain of India's junior men's hockey team, Manpreet Singh, is living a dream at the moment. After being asked to lead the team at the 3rd Sultan of Johor Cup in Malaysia, the 21-year-old repaid selectors' faith in him by taking the team all the way to lift the trophy.

Manpreet made his foray into hockey in 2005 when he joined the Olympian Surjit Singh Hockey Academy in Jalandhar and in just three years' time was leading the junior national side during his international debut at the Junior Asia Cup in Myanmar.

In another three years, in 2011, Manpreet made it to the senior national squad during the Asian Champions Trophy in Ordos, China, which India won. He hasn't looked back since then and has been a regular member of the team.

The midfielder is employed with the Indian Overseas Bank, Chennai, and after his watershed moment in Johor Bahru is now concentrating on the FIH Junior World Cup to be held at New Delhi in December this year.

But on Saturday, during the Johor Cup final victory, the man from Mithapur, Punjab, was not just the cynosure of hockey fans. There was someone special in the stands who had her eyes glued to the man shooting instructions and India's final goal. Her name is Illi Najwa Saddique.

Illi, a student in Malaysia, and Manpreet met during last year's Johor Cup, and it was love at first sight. "We met last year [in Malaysia]," Manpreet had told IBNLive before leaving for Malaysia. When asked if both have disclosed their relationship to their families, Manpreet said, "Yes, and they have given their consent." Illi has already been to Punjab and met Manpreet's parents.

But 21 is too young to get married, especially when Manpreet has a long hockey career in front of him and big tournaments lined up December onward. Manpreet concurs. "I am fully focused on my career as of now as I want to play the Junior World Cup as well as the senior World Cup, Commonwealth Games and Asian Games next year, and then prepare for the 2016 Rio Olympics," he said.

Besides his good looks and nifty stick-work, a tattoo on Manpreet's leg catches attention instantaneously. The tattoo, which Manpreet got made by a friend in Mumbai, says 'Korean'. When asked about the story behind it, Manpreet explained: "That's my nickname."

"When I was a kid playing hockey back in Mithapur, my naturally spiked hair caught my friends' fancy. They felt my hair gave me the look of a Korean, who have similar hair. Since then, this name has stayed with me and my childhood friends call me by it.

The Manpreet-led Indian team stayed unbeaten on their way to winning the Johor Cup, beating England, Argentina, Pakistan and South Korea, before drawing the league match against Malaysia, who India beat in the final to lift the trophy.

Twenty-one may sound young to become the victim of cupid's arrow, but Manpreet, alias 'Korean', seems to be well in control - both on and off the field.

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