Six in the evening is late by Imphal standards but despite rain, cold weather and the day almost coming to an end, Manipur and its people were just about getting ready for a historic start. After all, the Indian football team is in the city to play their first ever match in Manipur on Wednesday, against Myanmar in the Tri-Nation International Football Tournament.
Manipur’s love for football is no secret. Having produced over 50 players for the men’s and women’s senior national teams, Manipur also has the most number of players for a state in the Indian Super League (ISL), I-League and Indian Women’s League (IWL).
Their love for the game finally led to a date with the senior national team and the venue for the historic night in the city was the Khuman Lampak Stadium. The stadium has been the home to the famous Imphal derby between I-League clubs NEROCA and TRAU FC and has a capacity of 35,000.
Safe to say… Manipur is excited for this! 💙💙 #INDMYA ⚔️ #HeroTriNation 🏆 #BackTheBlue 💙 #IndianFootball ⚽ pic.twitter.com/Kgccjiu7s9— Indian Football Team (@IndianFootball) March 22, 2023
And you bet, the stands were packed to the rafters as locals made their way to the stadium in big numbers to watch their favourite superstars. Another thing that made the environment and the day extra special was the festival of Sajibu Cheiraoba on the same day which marks the start of the traditional new year for the local Meitei community.
At the stadium, the welcome and celebrations began with local band Rhythms of Manipur producing a mesmerising performance as they made the fans in attendance move to their beats. This was followed by an elaborate dance performance — highlighting various cultures of Manipur, a state comprising multiple tribes and different languages — as the Indian team trained on the pitch behind the performers amid loud cheers.
The Khuman Lampak stadium looks full as Manipur gets ready to host Indian football team for first time. #INDMYA pic.twitter.com/z6Y60tx50W— Ujwal (@UjwalKS) March 22, 2023
Once the cultural programmes were over, the Blue Tigers were back on the pitch in their national colours, welcomed to the ground with fireworks and Manipur Chief Minister Biren Singh greeting the players from both sides.
Manipur Chief Minister Mr N Biren Singh addressed the crowd and greeted the players before this historic game at the Khuman Lampak Stadium! #INDMYA ⚔️ #HeroTriNation 🏆 #BlueTigers 🐯 #BackTheBlue 💙 #IndianFootball ⚽ pic.twitter.com/O6nH6QJEFs— Indian Football Team (@IndianFootball) March 22, 2023
That brought and end to the opening ceremony, and so began the game for which the locals had waited for years.
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