The Minerva Punjab owner spoke after one of his graduates from the Chandigarh Football Academy combined to score India’s first ever goal at a FIFA event.
The India U-17 national team consist of 21 players who have worked hard in climbing the ladder to reach this podium. While most of the players came from the AIFF youth system, there is a group of four players who were selected owing to their performance against their current squad mates.
Flashback to a few months back, after the appointment of Luis Norton de Matos, the Indian U-17 coach prepared against Minerva Punjab FC U-17s in an eye-opener friendly. The boys of Minerva defeated the national team 1-0 but the eye-opener was not just the unpreparedness but the incompletion of the players as well.
At that time, Mohammad Shahjahan was the only player in the national squad who did not come out of the AIFF youth system, instead, he came through the ranks of Minerva FC. After the defeat, the Portuguese manager took notes of the game and went on to select three players from Minerva’s playing XI. Jeakson Thounaojam Singh, Anwar Ali and Nongdamba Naorem went with Matos to prepare for the FIFA U-17 World Cup.
Fast forward to 9th October 2017, apart from Shahjahan, the other three Minerva’s prodigies featured for the Indian national team against Colombia. What became a fairytale to pass on to generations, Jeakson rose highest to create history in the 82nd minute of the game. The boy from Manipur scored India’s first ever FIFA World Cup goal.
Naorem showed moments of brilliance with the ball but couldn’t really conjure up anything else for the Blues. While Ali was resolute at the back, he never seemed to miss a header from the barrage of crosses from Colombia. Ali gave a memorable performance and asserted himself as one of the brightest talents in the country.
Speaking after the game to Khel Now exclusively, Minerva owner Ranjit Bajaj was understandably ecstatic about his players’ performance, “All of my hard work has paid off. All of the efforts I have put in on these four lads, all of the things I have been through for them, I believe everything has paid off now. I am proud of them.” He further added, ” I would love for them to play for my first team squad, competing in the I-League against the big boys to gain the right exposure and learn.”
“When they were gone, I had to use players from the southern parts of India as an alternative for them. Anwar, Jeakson and Shahjahan will be included in the first team setup. there is no chance that I won’t include them.”
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“If the AIFF asks them to be in any activity for the betterment of our country or any future plans than that is not an issue. If not, then they will surely be going up against the big lads. Jeakson and Anwar are mature and ready for this challenge.”
“All in all, the game was electrifying and the result would have been a lot different had the ball gone in despite hitting the post at the half-hour mark.”
The Golden boy of Indian football at the moment, Jeakson, said after the goal against Colombia, “It was a nice experience and I felt on cloud nine when I scored the goal, however, we tried our best but were unlucky. It is obviously a great feeling to score for my country in a FIFA World Cup but it would have been sweeter had we won the match. To me, in fact, it does not even matter as long as we score. We deserved a result, and we tried our very best to get it, but in the process, we learnt a huge lesson what International Football is all about.”
“Just because I scored it doesn’t mean that I should get all the credit. It was a great feeling for me as well as for the entire team and country. I was very excited at that moment; in fact, we all were watching the fans scream. But we conceded immediately and it was quite a shattering feeling.”
“It was such a sweet and sour feeling for all of us. There were many who congratulated me. I was happy; we were all happy. But at the same time, it was so much of a disappointment as we couldn’t get a result which I feel we fully deserved.”
With India facing Ghana in their final group stage encounter, Jaekson informed the team is “ready for the African challenge.”
“We will play as per our plans. As a team, we are prepared to fight it out. We played well against Colombia. We have fought hard and will do the same against Ghana,” he pronounced.
These lads are the future of Indian football and will take the tri-colour to the borders of the globe. We hope they keep scoring.