There is a heightened level of excitement among the football fans here in the Manipur capital as the senior men’s Indian football team arrived to play the friendly Tri-Nation International tournament.
This is a big opportunity for the fans to have a first-hand experience of seeing the Indian team, which makes its maiden outing in the football-crazy state, which is considered to be of the biggest nurseries of football in the country. This madness is reflected in the fact that the tickets in the venue – Khuman Lampak Stadium – are almost exhausted.
The tournament will have three matches in a league format where India will be meeting neighbouring Myanmar in the opener and later take on a strong Kyrgyzstan in the last match on March 28. The two visiting teams will be clashing in the interregnum on March 25. The trophy will go to the side that tops the final standings.
Indian head coach Igor Stimac put things into perspective by heaping tributes on Manipur for its contribution to Indian football. “I feel excited to be in Manipur, which is a very important state for the National team. This state has given so many important players to the country. Presently in our squad of 23, there are seven players who were born in this state,” Stimac said in the pre-tournament media briefing.
The former Croatian World Cupper said that he would be acknowledging Manipur’s seminal contribution to the sport by fielding a good number of players from the state in the match against Myanmar.
“This tournament is a part of promoting football all over India. I am happy that the first edition of the exercise is happening in the state which has made the foremost contribution to Indian football. It is likely that we would be utilising the services of many of the players from Manipur in the first match against Myanmar,” Stimac said.
The Indian head coach also sought to rest most of the players who played the ISL final three days ago and preserve them for the match against Kyrgyzstan, which he considered a “much tougher opponent.”
With the prospect of a capacity crowd of 30,000 cheering from the stands, the Indians will have all the motivation to do well. “We have been waiting for a long time to play friendly matches at home and this tournament is providing us the opportunity to show how much we have progressed in our football,” Stimac said.
“We look to start the preparation for the Asian Cup in May. We are here to enjoy and celebrate the success of our players in ISL. We would be enjoying our time as the national team reconvenes after the gruelling ISL,” he added.
The fatigue factor is playing its part in resting a good number of players who played the ISL. “When it comes to recovery and getting some fresh legs we would try to overcome the fatigue factor by not involving the players who played the final (of ISL). For the match against Myanmar we will be looking to rest most of the players who played the final and preserve them for the more serious game (against Kyrgyzstan),” he said.
Stimac had a word for the improvement of infrastructure in Manipur. “I hope this tournament will help in bringing about a better football infrastructure in Manipur. When we see how much Indian football means to the people of Manipur then the government will be encouraged to improve the football infrastructure here,” he said.
The Myanmar side is also joined by some of its players who are playing in Thailand and Malaysian leagues. “My job is to take the Myanmar team back to its glory days. We will try to show some quality against India and bring back the confidence in my boys,” Myanmar head coach Michael Feichtenbeiner said.
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