It was a moment of redemption for Samuel Lalmuanpuia as he nearly took Chandigarh to glory by scoring three goals on Friday evening. Down in the match despite his early strike,Chandigarh needed something special from Samuel. He replied immediately. Caressing the shot with his foot,curling it against the far post and ricocheting it into the net,he found the equaliser against Tripura. At that moment,he had tamed the ghosts of the semi-final match against Odisha,which they had lost 1-2,and had to settle for the third place.
In September last year,at the same picturesque Bakshi Stadium in Srinagar in the National School Games Junior Football Championship for Under-17,despite the Chandigarh team leading by one goal till the dying moments of the match,they ended up on the losing note. That loss hurt the most to Samuel,the top scorer for the team with five goals,as he had failed to connect the ball on couple of occassions,which cost them the match.
But on Friday,Samuel was a different person. After scoring for the third time in the match,this time in the penalty shoot out,Samuel sat from the sidelines and saw Anirudha Thapa sending the ball the wrong way.
His heart was heavy and eyes wet but it wasn’t the time to sulk over the end result. He rather went and consoled Anirudha and told other players how well they had performed. At that moment,Samuel was no longer a 14-old-old,a small but perfectly attuned midfield general; he had rather grown into a man.
“It definitely hurts to lose in the final,but we played great football all the way to the final. Everybody praised us for our game. That is all that really matters!,” Samuel told while speaking on the phone from Srinagar after the Chandigarh team lost 6-7 in the penalty shootout as the match was tied at 2-all at the end of the regulation time.
The confidence in his voice and the magic in his feet is the result of hard work over the past one year.
In the absence of Daniel Lalhimpuia and AZ Lalramzauva,who are busy with the national duties as a part of the Indian Under-16 team,Samuel has emerged as the most reliable player for the team in the last couple of months. Despite a midfielder who loves to move ahead,Samuel has provided crucial goals for the team,as was evident when he netted six times for Chandigarh in the tournament at Srinagar. “Samuel and Nishu have improved alot ever since playing in the same tournament last year. Of course we missed Daniel and Arjit in the tournament,but Samuel played wonderfully well. He has defined a role for himself and he is our highly-prized player,” shared Harjinder Singh,who trains Samuel and others at the Chandigarh Football Academy.
While Samuel was in top form,the team itself was still reeling from the loss of three players who were part of the same team last year. The absence of Timoi was felt the most as Arshdeep’s inexperience while guarding the Chandigarh goal,was palpable.
“Arshdeep is not experienced and it showed in the way he guarded the goal today. He could have easily saved a goal,but he made a mistake. Nevertheless,I am satisfied with the performance of the team,” added Harjinder.
Arshdeep,meanwhile,has been included in the Indian team for the Under-18 Asian School Football Championship,to be held in Iran next month. Not seven,but now eight players from Chandigarh will prove their worth during the one-month camp to be held in different cities across the country.
Also,the coming few months are very important for Harjinder as apart from the selection of Nishu Kumar,who will train at Inter Milan,and the eight players for the tournament at Iran,the invitation sent by the Singapore Sports School to take part in a Under-15 international tournament will benefit the team alsot.
“Our boys are doing well in their age category in India,but they really need to prove themselves at the international level. The Manchester United Premier Cup was an eye-opener for them,and therefore I want the boys to get as much international exposure as possible. I hope they will surely take part in the tournament at Singapore,” shared the former international.