Former Manipur footballers excited for tri-nation meet in Imphal
Indian football team

Guwahati: Manipur’s ex-internationals expressed delight after Chief Minister Biren Singh announced that the state would host a tri-nation friendly football series involving India, Kyrgyz Republic and Myanmar at the Khuman Lampak Stadium in Imphal next month.

Now based out of Kolkata, Kiren Khongsai finds the occasion as a moment of personal pride. Khongsai was the first player from Manipur to don the India jersey when he made his debut in 1989, against Sri Lanka in SAFF Games in Islamabad, said he was thrilled and delighted that the state has finally got its due.

“Every day you read about so many troubling things, and even today, the front page was about the earthquake. It was heartbreaking. But when I reached the last page, I was thrilled, happy that at last Manipur is getting something it deserved,” he said in a statement.

Khongsai, who made six appearances for India (scoring one goal) opened the gates for the next generations to dream of breaking into the national team.

“I was lucky to play for India when I did. It is an honour and I am glad that I share this honour with many more Manipur players,” he said.

The All India Football Federation’s (AIFF) decision to stage the tri-nation tournament in Imphal from March 22 to 26, is in line with its objectives in Vision 2047 to spread the game far and wide. It is for the first time the senior India men’s team will play official international matches in Manipur.

Since Khongsai’s debut, Manipur has contributed more than 50 players to both the Indian men’s and women’s outfits over the years.

Oinam Bembem Devi, one of the game’s greatest female players, believes that hosting an international at the Khuman Lampak will inspire more young players to keep their heads down and work hard to earn their stripes.

“I’m glad that the AIFF and the Manipur government have taken this long due honour to our home. I can tell you from personal experience that hosting these prestigious events goes a long way toward motivating players. When the women’s nationals was hosted in Imphal in 1991-92, I was very young, and I remember watching the games, seeing such big players and hoping to emulate them,” she said.

“Watching Sunil Chhetri and others in the flesh will be a massive morale booster for today’s youngsters who have heard of them, seen them on TV but never otherwise,” she added.

Another former India women’s international Thongam Tababi Devi believes that the upcoming international series in men’s football will open the gates for the state to host a women’s tournament.

“Many girls in the women’s team are from Manipur and many in the past also have been from the state. It’s good that they are bringing the men’s team here in March. Hopefully, after this, the women will also get to turn out in front of their home fans, friends and family,” she hopes.

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