The atmosphere was electrifying during India’s last match against Kenya, which marked the 100th International appearance of Indian skipper Sunil Chhetri. The ‘Blue Tigers’ outclassed the African outfits by a three-goal margin in front of 9000 people who gathered at the stadium after Sunil made a plea on social media to support Indian Football.
It was great to see the response! But their following match against New Zealand saw a diminished crowd, even though it promised to be an exciting match and was also a special occasion for one of the nation’s most prolific strikers in recent years.
Indian striker Jeje Lalpekhlua played his 50th international match at the Mumbai Football Arena on Thursday evening, but the lacklustre performance overshadowed the incredible achievement.
Unlike in the last match, where Sunil scored a brace and Jeje scored another to steer India to a victory, New Zealand held the nerves to claim the honours. Sunil Chhetri’s 47th-minute strike was neutralised by De Jong two minutes later while Dyer scored the winner for the Kiwis in the 86th minute.
Jeje Lakhpeklua hails from the hotbed of Indian football, the ‘North-East’. On top of that, his family had a strong football connection. His father and brother played for their local Mizoram based club- The Model Sporting club, where Jeje made his debut.
His uncle represented Mizoram in the Santosh Trophy. Making his senior debut for I-League outfits Pune FC, he was selected as the captain for the Indian U19 team in the South Asian Games. From there on, it was no looking back!
Although his stints with Pune FC were not too fruitful, it was during his stay with Goa-based Dempo FC and Pailan Arrows that he came into limelight. Having made his International debut during the 2012 AFC Challenge Cup, he started to cement his place in the National Team.
He was part of the victorious Indian football team in each of the 2009, 2011 and 2015 SAFF Championships. The goal against Afghanistan in the final of the 2015 edition is a one to remember. In the domestic level, he has won each and every tournament including the I-League and the Federation Cup with Mohun Bagan and the ISL with Chennaiyin FC twice!
The ‘Mizo Sniper’ is an asset to the Indian National Team and Stephen Constantine is quite aware that the striker will play a vital role alongside Sunil Chhetri in the 2019 AFC Asian Cup. He is a ‘fox in the box’ and a big match player which makes him even more special.
So far, he has netted 23 times for the ‘Blue Tigers’ and hopefully there is many more to follow soon. India is likely to qualify for the final of the ongoing Intercontinental Cup which will be played in Mumbai on Sunday and Jeje loves to score in finals!