Jeakson Thounaojam etched his name in the history books of India. The tall midfielder rose above time and space to head in India's equaliser against Colombia in the U-17 World Cup group stage match in New Delhi on Monday. This was India's first goal in the football World Cup - in any age category - as Jeakson leapt to defy gravity, notions, and years of under-achievement, to head home Sanjeev Stalin's wickedly curling corner in the 82nd minute.
India had barely finished rejoicing when Juan Penaloza restored the lead with a simple finish after the Colombian midfielder had earlier given them the lead just after half time. That made it 2-1 in Colombia's favour and that is the way it stayed.
India's coach Luis Norton de Matos clapped all the way to the tunnel at half-time, leading India's U-17 boys to the dressing room after a gallant fight against Colombia, big in reputation and built. In the gentrified atmosphere of the stadium, Anwar Ali showed enough promise to serve India in the long run. Winning aerial battles against the marauding Yadir Meneses and the giant Colombian captain Thomas Gutierrez, Ali's towering presence gave confidence to his teammates up the park as well as to Dheeraj Moirangthem, India's last line of defence.
Showing De Gea-like reflexes, Dheeraj denied Leandro Campaz's header from close and Meneses' left footed drive to keep India in the game. However, the citadel could not be defended for long. After the changeover, Juan Penaloza, Colombia's right-sided midfielder, advanced down the channel, made room for himself with a drop of his big shoulder, and found the net with a left-footed shot. It was just four minutes in to the second session.
Having lost their opening encounter to Ghana, Colombia needed to log three points to stay alive in the group. USA had already earned six after their second straight win in the earlier match against Ghana. Ringing four changes from the last match, de Matos had raised a few eyebrows but the first-half performance justified his decision. Boris Thangjam, as the right back, kept the dangerous Campaz in check while T Jeakson added a lot of muscle in the midfield. Rahim Ali started alongside Abhijit Sarkar while Namit Deshpande partnered Anwar at the heart of defence. Mumbai-born Deshpande is an import from the US, and the first NRI to don an Indian shirt.
If de Matos was frustrated with Komal Thatal's profligacy and Anwar Ali hitting the horizontal against the US in the first match, the Portuguese must have felt even greater pain seeing Rahul Kannoly's volley come to grief seconds before the halftime whistle was blown.
The terraces screamed to shake the sky as Boris Thagnjam, one of the new call-ups, picked out Kannoly unmarked on the edge of the box. The attacking midfielder did nothing wrong, picked his spot with a leftfooted volley, that nine out of ten times would find the net. It was Kannoly and India's bad luck.
In the opening encounter, the burly Americans defeated India 3-0 though Indian colts fought valiently.