New Delhi, Oct. 10: In the 82nd minute, midfielder Jeakson Thounaojam’s brilliant header produced a magical moment for which the entire nation had been waiting with bated breath. He leapt up and headed the ball into the top corner of the Colombian goalpost to draw parity for the hosts, who were trailing 0-1 following Juan Penaloza’s strike in the 49th minute.
The entire Jawaharlal Nehru (JLN) Stadium erupted with joy as Thounaojam became the first Indian ever to score a goal in the World Cup. The wonderful effort was initiated by Sanjeev Stalin, whose accurate kick from the corner helped the Manipuri player give India their first ever goal in the World Cup.
Even as the spectators were celebrating the momentous occasion, the Colombians, in the very next minute, broke their hearts when Penaloza struck on a counterattack to put his team ahead. The hosts fought like wounded tigers in the dying moments of the game to find an equaliser but their efforts went in vain as the Colombia defence stood firm to ensure a 2-1 victory for the team.
Today’s loss has virtually knocked India out of the tournament. With two defeats in as many matches, India trail Colombia and Ghana — the other two teams vying for the second spot after the USA entered the Round of 16 — on points table. India will play two-time champions Ghana in their final league fixture on Thursday and only a win by a huge margin could keep India’s hopes of making the next round theoretically alive.
Nevertheless, India’s performance against Colombia showed they belong to the WC stage. All they need is more exposure and game-time to improve further. A few more highly-competitive international tournaments would do a world of good to this talented bunch.
Monday, India matched their much-fancied counterparts for every shot, cross, pass and tackle. The intensity and aggression were there all the time. Midfielder Rahul KP could have become the first Indian to score a goal in a FIFA tournament if his ferocious left-footer from the edge of the box hadn’t hit the crossbar in the 46th minute. Rahul, after dodging the Colombian defenders, had just the goalkeeper to beat but he missed the opportunity. Earlier, in the 16th minute, Abhijit Sarkar, too, had the goalkeeper standing between him and what could have been India’s first goal, but his shot landed in the goalkeeper’s hands. India’s brilliance and domination could be gauged from the fact that both teams went into the breather goalless. Quite an achievement against the South American powerhouse, who were the semifinalists in the 2009 edition.
In the second half, India and Colombia started on an even keel. But Penaloza’s left footer in the deep corner of India’s goal handed Colombia the lead. After a few skirmishes and some excellent midfield tackles, India finally found their moment of glory when Jeakson scored through a header. However, as the Indians were getting their focus back, Penaloza broke their hearts as he curled the ball in to give his team the lead. The disappointment was writ large on the faces of the Indian players. Some were even crying. But in the heart of their hearts, they would know they played well and made everyone proud. THE TRIBUNE
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