- Jeakson Thounaojam scored India’s first-ever goal in a FIFA competition
- Midfielder’s header earned plenty of coverage across the subcontinent nation
- India need win over Ghana to have chance of reaching Round of 16
With less than ten minutes remaining in New Delhi, Indian football fans were hoping for something that nearly two FIFA U-17 World Cup matches had yet to yield – a goal from the tournament hosts.
Trailing 1-0 to Colombia, India won a corner on the right-hand side. It was from that set-piece that midfielder Jeakson Thounaojam rose to head home and create Indian football history. His short-lived equaliser sent the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium crowd into raptures, with hopes that a well-earned result could be achieved. A minute later, however, Colombia’s Juan Penaloza struck for a second time to dash those hopes.
The 2-1 defeat to the South Americans was harsh on India, whose spirited effort earned plenty of plaudits from local fans and media alike. Thounaojam’s picture, in particular, adorned many of Tuesday’s papers in the subcontinent nation, with his headed finish now etched into the history books.
It is an achievement that was realised by the 16-year-old, though his humbled expression suggested the moment had not yet sunk in when he spoke to FIFA.com after the match.
“It is not often that I get a chance to score a goal, so I feel very excited,” said Thounaojam, whose first name is pronounced ‘Jackson’. “I want to say thank you to my team-mates for giving me a chance to score.
“[From the corner], I was thinking the ball would be coming my way, so I was already focused on that ball and I went and headed it into the goal.”
As in so many cases in football, the delight of scoring a goal can lead to a lapse of concentration and a reply from the opposition at the other end, which was the case in Monday’s game. Thounaojam admits the second Colombian goal had an effect on his team.
“Our team was very happy that we scored the goal, but then when we conceded, we felt very sad,” he said. “After we conceded, we were not putting in the same energy as we were putting in before we scored the goal.”
* Full name: Jeakson Singh Thounaojam * Born 21 June 2001 in Manipur, India * A product of the Chandigarh Football Academy before later joining the Minerva Punjab FC Academy * His football idols are Indian legend Bhaichung Bhutia and Barcelona midfielder Sergio Busquets
Following defeats to USA and Colombia in Group A, India’s hopes of making the Round of 16 look slim. A victory over Ghana in New Delhi on Thursday night will be required for the hosts to continue their U-17 World Cup adventure. “We believe we can win against Ghana,” said Thounaojam. “We will be together and we will fight for this win.”
Whether India find a way to reach the knockout stages or not, the midfielder has taken pride in being part of something unprecedented in his country.
“It’s the first time that India is competing in a World Cup,” said Thounaojam. “Not only me, but all of India is excited for the U-17 World Cup. It’s the first time in history, so I am part of history. I’m very happy and very excited.”