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.”
SOME INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT JEAKSON SINGH
- 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
- He is the cousin brother of Amarjit Singh Kiyam, the Under-17 Football Team captain.
- A very talented player, Jeakson has played for Minerva Punjab’s senior team in the Durand Cup and DSK Cup.
- He is a midfielder and got introduced to the sport because his father was a football coach
- Jeakson’s mother sold vegetables to support his football career
- However, when the preparatory team for the Under-17 World Cup was being put together in 2015, Jeakson’s CFA teammates Amarjit and Sanjeev would be selected in the AIFF trials held at Goa but the defensive midfielder would miss out.
- But the youngster would not give up on his World Cup dreams. He got down to the hard grind at Minerva Punjab and formed a crucial part of the club’s academy team which would go on to win the AIFF U-15 & U-16 Youth League titles two years in a row.
- Jackson’s chance to eventually join the India Under-17 squad though would come by providence. German coach Nicolai Adam, who had been given the original charge of leading the squad in the World Cup, departed under a cloud of allegations at the start of the current year.
- Minerva Punjab had won the 2017 U16 Youth I-League at Mumbai by defeating Ozone FC 3-0 final with Jeakson scoring a long-range stunner early on. He and several of his teammates caught the attention of Abhishek Yadav, who decided to invite them for a match against the U17 World Cup team.