New Delhi [India], February 7 (ANI): The upcoming FIFA International break will be momentous as India Senior Men's National Team will play Tri-Nation FIFA Friendly Football Tournament matches against Myanmar and Kyrgyz Republic at the Khuman Lampak Stadium in 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 Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh at a press conference in Imphal.
Present at the press conference was Kalyan Chaubey, President of All India Football Federation and Secretary General Shaji Prabhakaran.
"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 to the Indian Football scene and we are grateful that the AIFF management has also taken a step towards spreading the game to different parts of the country," the Chief Minister said, according to a release.
"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 added.
The Chief Minister 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 Chief Minister also sought 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 further 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 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 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 lauded Biren Singh.
"I have massive respect for the state of Manipur, and was glad to see that CM's intent for connect with Indian Football. He told me what we can do for further development of the game," said Chaubey.
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. (ANI)