NEW DELHI: The upcoming FIFA International break will be a momentous one where the India Senior Men’s National Team will play the Hero Tri-Nation Friendly Tournament matches against Myanmar and the Kyrgyz Republic at the Khuman Lampak Stadium in the capital of Manipur, Imphal. The games will take place during the March FIFA International Window. The matches will be played on March 22, 24, and 26.
This was announced by Shri N Biren Singh, the honourable Chief Minister of Manipur in a press conference in Imphal on Monday, February 6, 2023. Present at the press conference was Mr Kalyan Chaubey, President, All India Football Federation and Secretary General Dr Shaji Prabhakaran.
The hon’ble Chief Minister of Manipur said, “It is a great initiative by the AIFF leadership that we are getting to host International friendly matches in Manipur for the first time in history. From our end, I can assure everyone that the Government of Manipur will do everything to provide the best facilities and facilitate in the successful organisation of the tournament.
“Manipur has been a significant contributor in Indian Football scene and we are grateful that the AIFF management has also taken the step towards spreading the game to different parts of the country,” said the hon’ble CM. “Manipur has provided many International players for the National Team. It is indeed an honour to host the tournament and further encourage our players and sports enthusiasts.
“The likes of Renedy Singh, Gouramangi Singh, Udanta Singh, Amarjit Kiyam, Suresh, Jeakson and lots more have all set the international stage alight and held the standards of Manipur football high on the national and international stages,” he said.
“Manipur has been a great contributor to women’s football as well. Players like Bala Devi, who is one of the best strikers of this generation, captain Ashalata Devi, Dangmei Grace, Elangbam Panthoi Chanu and many more have made the country proud time and again well.”
The hon’ble CM also requested the AIFF’s assistance in establishing a top-class academy in the state. “I would also like to request the AIFF for its assistance in establishing a football academy of global standards in Manipur, where we can nurture the talented boys and girls from the state and set their course for further development.”
This will be the first time that the India Senior National Team will be playing in Imphal, Manipur, as the Federation looks to spread the outreach of the beautiful game throughout the country, in line with its strategic roadmap, Vision 2047.
The venue for the games is the historic Khuman Lampak Stadium, which has over the years hosted many Hero I-League games and also group stage games of the prestigious Durand Cup in August 2022. Established in 1999, the stadium has a capacity of 35,000.
“We all are aware of football’s popularity in Manipur. The state has produced a huge number of footballers, both men and women, but never before has a national team’s match been organised in the state,” AIFF President Mr Kalyan Chaubey said. “Having launched Vision 2047 recently, our aim is to take quality football to the furthest corners of the country. Manipur’s vibrant football culture makes them deserving hosts, and so they have been given charge of hosting the Senior National Team’s matches.”
The AIFF President further praised Manipur Chief Minister Shri N Biren Singh, who has promised more infrastructural growth of football in the state of Manipur.
“I have massive respect for the state of Manipur, and was glad to see CM sir’s intent for connect with Indian Football. He told me what we can do for further development of the game,” said Mr Chaubey. “There have already been so many international players from Manipur, but the CM sir is keen to take things even further. He has promised that the Manipur Government will open an academy, with top level grounds, infrastructure and hostels. With his leadership, I am sure the AIFF will put its best foot forward to so that every talent in Manipur can be nurtured properly. I can assure you that Indian Football will put all efforts to get the best from the boys and girls of Manipur.”
“Manipur is a state that has huge footballing potential and we hope that bringing international football here will provide a tremendous boost to local football and have a positive impact on Indian Football.” Secretary General Dr Shaji Prabhakaran said.
“The state of Manipur is a factory of talent, which is clearly reflected in the record number of footballers playing in the top league across the country for a number of years. We will work with Manipur football in line with the Vision 2047 strategy to make things more vibrant and spread this culture throughout the country. Organising international friendlies here will hopefully galvanise the youth, inspire more youngsters to take up the sport, and even motivate other states to grow the game in a way where they can also become attractive locations with vibrant football culture.”
The Blue Tigers last played on home soil in June 2022, when they topped their group to secure qualification for the 2024 AFC Asian Cup, defeating the likes of Cambodia, Afghanistan, and Hong Kong. The upcoming friendlies will be part of a series of matches that India will play in the FIFA International windows to prepare for next year’s Asian Cup.
Head Coach Igor Stimac expressed excitement at the forthcoming games saying, “It will be great to play a few friendly matches at home again. We now have enough time to check our opponents’ form and formulate our plans accordingly.
“These games should serve us well as we prepare for the Asian Cup. Hopefully we can start the year with a few good results,” he added. “I hope all our boys will maintain good form and stay injury free in the next few weeks until we get together.”
The Blue Tigers have a long football history with Myanmar, dating back to 1952 (then Burma), when the two sides first met, and Sahu Mewalal netted a hat-trick in a 4-0 win for the Blue Tigers.
In recent times, Sunil Chhetri was the hero in a 1-0 victory over Myanmar, who are now 159th in the FIFA Rankings, in 2017 in the Asian Cup Qualifiers. The reverse fixture ended 2-2, with Chhetri netting a penalty and Jeje scoring another one.
The Blue Tigers have a winning record against the Kyrgyz Republic (94 in the FIFA Rankings), having won three matches to the Central Asian side’s two. The match against Kyrgyz Republic was one of the crucial games in India’s qualification campaign for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup. The Blue Tigers clinched a 1-0 victory, thanks again to a strike by Chhetri in Bengaluru in 2017. Although Kyrgyz Republic won the reverse fixture 2-1, India secured qualification for the 2019 Asian Cup.
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