Muscat: Tears! They don’t always wet your eyes. Often they wet your heart. Your heart cries but your eyes stay dry. It’s a pain which you one can share with none, the pain of losing someone dear. After losing his grandfather three days back, striker Manandeep Singh whenever in solitude has howled. In public, his pain made him stronger as an individual.
He refused to go back to his hometown Hissar for the rituals. Instead, he chose Muscat, the Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex to be precise.
India opened their campaign by defeating Lebanon 5-2 in the opening match of the AFC U-22 Championship at the picturesque stadium.
Manandeep paid the perfect tribute to his grandfather heading in a scorching header off a Lalrindika cross in the 16th minute to put India in the lead while Alwyn George slotted it past an advancing rival goalkeeper Nazih Hassan in the 39th minute. He added one more in the 55thminute while Jeje Lalpekhlua scored his first goal in the 71st minute and completed the rout in the 90th minute.
For Lebanon, substitute Omar Kurdi pulled one back in the 48th minute while Abdul Fattah scored another in the 69th minute.
If that was all about the sacrifice, here’s something about the history. It was on this day that All India Football Federation was founded in Shimla in 1937. Even as former India Captain and legendary footballer Chuni Goswami unfurled the flag at Delhi’s Football House which marked the start of the Platinum Jubilee Celebrations of AIFF, a new chapter unfolded on the green turf, that too against a team as technically equipped and physically strong as Lebanon.
The style was too possessive. The boys stayed as protective of the ball as if it was their girlfriend. They roamed around it all over, sometimes at a leisurely place, the next moment with a sudden run. Lebanon chased.
In the first half, India were more prepared; more organised. The practice sessions in Delhi and Dubai helped the team to acclimatise fast. Muscat, despite being more hot, was more homely for them than Lebanon.
Changing over, Lebanon reduced the margin almost immediately – Omar Kurdi sneaking in between the two stoppers – Souvik Ghosh and Deepak
Devrani to slot it home. Suddenly it seemed, India were losing the plot and Arthur Papas, not much pleased in the momentum being lost, wanted to draft in Jeje Lalpeklua.
But even before Jeje replaced Manandeep, Alwyn George made it 3-1. Receiving it midway into the rival half, Alwyn snaked past three and placed it in the corner for his second goal of the match.
Abdul Fattah did tap in off a melee in the 70th minute for Lebanon but the very next minute Jeje announced his rival scoring the right corner of the inner box.
With no option left, Lebanon went all out. India stayed content in slowing down the pace for the rest of the match. Lebanon did try to press hard but it came too late. On the contrary, Dika hit the post which should have been India’s fifth goal.
Instead Jeje made it 5-2 off a counter in the 90th minute.
It was a new resurgent India coached by 32-year Arthur Papas who played with more intent for a deserving victory.
In the dressing room, Manandeep couldn’t hold himself back. His heart was too wet by then and tears overflowed into his eyes. His teammates consoled him. Tears of pain? Or Tears of Joy?
“I wanted to pay my respect to my Grandfather. He loved me like anything,” Manandeep said. Alwyn came over put his arm around his shoulder and the duo walked towards the team bus. The rest followed.
Sacrifice; History; Future! All in one match!
INDIA: Gurpreet Singh (Captain); Abhishek Das, Souvik Ghosh, Deepak Devrani, Narayan Das, Ganeshan (Pronoy Halder – 65th), Milan Singh, Shaiju Mon, Alwyn Geroge, Lalrindika Ralte, Manandeep Singh (Jeje Lapleklua – 56th)
By Nilanjan Datta