Manipur, in India’s northeast, is one of the country’s few states that is truly obsessed with the beautiful game. While all is going on, the state is preparing to host Team India for the first time, which will be its most major sporting event to date.
The Manipuris may be thinking, “Better late than never,” as they prepare to host an international tournament here beginning on Wednesday. The state is one of Indian football’s most extensive supply lines. India and Myanmar will play their first game at the Khuman Lampak Stadium in the tri-nation tournament that also includes Kyrgyzstan.
Sunil Chhetri, who just led Bengaluru FC (BFC) to the Indian Super League (ISL) 2022-23 title game, will return to lead India’s charge against a team that has lost nine of its last eleven matches. Head coach Igor Stimac will not want his team to take anything for granted in preparation for the Asian Cup 2023, and he will expect the young players nominated to the squad to make the most of their opportunity.
The local squad will play Kyrgyzstan on March 28 after facing Myanmar the previous day. Never before has Manipur been so prepared as it is now. Some members of the Blue Tigers have been regulars in the state’s domestic tournament, a source of many star players for the national team.
It’s the first time the football-crazed nation has hosted a major international competition. “Greetings, gentlemen, and thank you for visiting my house. Since it was announced that Imphal will host the tri-national, I’ve been getting a lot of calls and messages from friends and family back home “exclaimed Chinglensana Konsham.
The people of Manipur have a deep affection for the sport of football. Suresh Wangjam, a central midfielder for the state team, noted that his state’s passion for sports isn’t limited to soccer. “The football aspect isn’t the only one. Boxing, badminton, hockey, weightlifting, and dozens of other sports are quite popular among Manipur’s population “remarked the 22-year-old from India, home to such notable athletes as Mary Kom and Mirabai Chanu.
“Everyone in my family was thrilled when it was revealed that Imphal would host the tri-nation. In our hometown, they could come watch me play for India. What you just did is very remarkable. They’ve been to every one of my I-League games in Imphal, but this one will be broadcast to a far larger audience. As expected in a football-crazed state like Manipur, several family members have asked to attend the game “Suresh snickered.
According to Chinglensana, the success of the current crop of players from the state can be attributed to national superstars like Renedy Singh and Gouramangi Singh. “We consider it a great privilege to continue the national team legacy started by Renedy bhai and Mangi [Gouramangi] bhai. When I was a little boy, I looked up to Mangi bhai, and I owe most of what I know about defence to seeing him play “remarked Chinglensana.
The Khuman Lampak Stadium has piqued the interest of players from all around the region. Anirudh Thapa, whose team, the two-time defending ISL champion Chennaiyin FC (CFC), competed in the Durand Cup at the stadium last year, shared this sentiment. “Performing at the Khuman Lampak is a dreamlike experience. People would pack into the stadium to cheer on their favourite team. I know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of that kind of treatment, but having them on our side this time would be fantastic. I’m crossing my fingers that the Imphal audience shows up in even greater numbers this time around so that we can play with their enthusiastic cheering on our side “, Thapa remarked.