Story of the Manipuri cousins, who may soon have a special World Cup connection

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Time stood still as Jeakson Singh Thounaojam leapt higher than all in the sultry Delhi air in 2017 to head the ball into the back of the Colombian net – becoming India’s first-ever goal-scorer at a FIFA World Cup.

As Jeakson rejoiced, joining in the celebrations was India captain Amarjit Singh Kiyam – Jeakson’s fellow midfield general and cousin – with the two having made the journey from Thoubal to the FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2017 together.

The unforgettable goal has inspired a new generation of players across the country to dream big and soar high.

Among those is another member of the Manipuri duo’s family itself – Kritina Devi Thounaojam – some two years younger than her cousins, and a hopeful for the Indian squad for the upcoming FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup India 2021.

“I remember watching Jeakson’s goal in the World Cup live on television. It was a unique feeling. It was such a powerful moment for the country, and also our family,” 17-year-old Kritina told the-aiff.com.

“I was inspired to play football seeing my brothers. Amarjit and Jeakson taught me so much. We trained together whenever they would come back to our village. Practising with them always made me very happy. It was amazing when I saw them playing in the World Cup. That motivates me to play in the World Cup as well. It will be a proud moment if we have three World Cuppers from the family.”

Amarjit, who made his senior team last year at the age of 18, took a walk down memory lane as he recalled how they took their first lessons from the same coach, where Kritina would sometimes be the only girl.

“All of us used to train together under Jeakson’s father (Deben Singh) – he was our first coach. There were other players as well with us. The first girl to have joined was Kritina. There were times when she was the only girl amongst us and would also play for our local team,” Amarjit said.

“She is a very good player – technically good and mentally very strong. Seeing her, a few more girls also joined from nearby, including Babina (Devi Lisham, another U-17 women’s team player),” Amarjit, who has five senior international caps to his name, added.

Jeakson, who made 13 appearances for Kerala Blasters in the Indian Super League last season recalled how Kritina’s speed made her stand out from the rest, even outpacing boys older than her.

“I distinctly remember that she would run very fast as a kid. My father convinced her family to put her into football. He would coach her and whenever we came home, we would also teach her new drills and exercises that we also learnt,” Jeakson said.

“Once when we had come home, we organised a small tournament where Kritina played and was up against boys her age, and some even older to her. She was brilliant and played very well. She was faster than some of the boys – that is a really special memory.”

Kritina was 13 when she took up the game was selected to represent Manipur at the 2016-17 National Championships. She broke through into the national team ranks quickly – representing India at the age-group level SAFF competition.

In 2018, she was a member of the Indian squad at the AFC U-16 Women’s Championship 2019 Qualifiers in Mongolia.

Most recently, the speedy winger was part of the U-17 team that took on Sweden and Thailand in the U-17 Women’s Football Tournament last year, scoring the winner in the 1-0 triumph over Thailand.

The three, with their houses within walking distance to each other, have been training together while in lockdown and Amarjit said it makes him proud to see his cousin donning India colours.

“We (Jeakson and myself) know the feeling of playing for our country. Seeing Kritina do the same makes us so proud. She has already played at U-16 level and has even scored.

“I am very happy to see the effort and hard work put in by her every day – and how motivated she is.

“She is an example to follow for so many girls and I hope she keeps growing and moving forward,” said Amarjit.

“Senior or age group – the World Cup is the most important tournament in football. You are representing your country in front of the whole world. It’s an incredible experience that is different from anything else,” Jeakson said.

“We have all seen the impact that the first World Cup had on Indian football and I am sure the upcoming one will provide a massive boost, especially for the women’s game.

“Should Kritina be selected for the final squad next year, it would be a truly unbelievable feat. It would be a proud moment for the whole family, especially my father. Three World Cuppers in the same family – it would be one incredible family tradition to have.”

Sources: All India Football Federation, FIFA, AFC

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