Senior National Team
Jeakson Singh: The Midfield General is back and ready for combat
19 Mar 2024

Akhil Rawat
AIFF Media Team

ABHA, SAUDI ARABIA: After a six-month absence from the national team, Jeakson Singh Thounaojam is back in blue colours. A shoulder injury sustained during an Indian Super League game for Kerala Blasters FC against Mumbai City FC in October kept the midfielder out of action until February. Back to full fitness, the 22-year-old is now hungrier than ever.

Jeakson has played a pivotal role for the Blue Tigers in the last two years, and featured in 17 consecutive matches from the AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers in June 2022 until the King's Cup in Thailand in September 2023. There's perhaps no midfielder with a profile like him in India, which is why head coach Igor Stimac labelled him as one of the biggest misses in the squad for the AFC Asian Cup Qatar 2023.

While Jeakson did form a part of Kerala Blasters FC's contingent for the Kalinga Super Cup 2024 held during the same period as the Asian Cup, he wasn't a hundred percent fit and did not make an appearance. He finally returned to action in February and has played the last five matches for the Blasters in the ISL.

Excited to rejoin the national team for the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers against Afghanistan, Jeakson said, "It feels great to be back after a long and hard time. I'm happy to be with the team again. I'm looking forward to the upcoming two games now."

The Blue Tigers landed in Abha in south-western Saudi Arabia on March 15 and have had four full training sessions so far, which is helping them acclimatise to the conditions ahead of the match on March 21.

"The training is going fantastic. Everybody is happy and working hard in every session. We are ready for this fight," Jeakson added.

Apart from physical trouble, injury lay-offs can leave players mentally drained as well. But ample support from all corners made the recovery process simpler for Jeakson. Having been part of the national team setup for seven years now, he has known what it means to represent the country from a young age. It feels as if it was only yesterday that the tall 16-year-old created history for India by scoring at the FIFA U17 World Cup in New Delhi. Indian fans missed seeing him on the pitch for the last half a year, and Jeakson equally missed wearing the blue jersey too. But as they say - when you're back, you're always back for more.

"It was the first time I was out for such a long time due to an injury. I had to undergo surgery. Obviously, it was difficult. But the support I got from the coaching staff and my teammates - both the national team and my club - helped me a lot to stay positive during those tough times. Now that I'm finally back, I will try my best, give my hundred percent in every match, support the team and win."

Looking forward to the Afghanistan games, Jeakson reminisced about the last meeting with them back in 2022 at the Asian Cup Qualifiers in Kolkata. He played 68 minutes of that clash before being substituted and watched the late drama unfold sitting on the bench as Sunil Chhetri's free-kick and Sahal Abdul Samad's injury-time winner sealed India's berth at Qatar 2023.

The challenge might be a bit different here in Abha but the stakes are equally higher as beating Afghanistan will strengthen India's position in qualifying for Round 3 of the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers as well as the AFC Asian Cup Saudi Arabia 2027.

"I remember that match in Kolkata very well. It was a great victory for us. But now the situation is totally different. There have been a lot of changes. But what remains the same is that we'll give our best to get three points in both games, home and away," affirmed Jeakson.

India's match against Afghanistan on March 21, 2024, in Abha (March 22, 12.30 am IST) will be live-streamed on FanCode.

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