Two months after he turned 20, Jeje Lalpekhlua, took the field for his team, the Arrows, against the lowly Air India team in the 2010-11 I-League season. Just two weeks prior, he had featured for the Indian Under-23 team, opening the scoring in a 2-1 win against Myanmar in Pune. The three-season old I-League - India’s Division I football league - was coming off its best season yet; the previous season saw a then-record 486 goals scored in 182 matches. The fight at the top was fierce with rivalries between Salgaocar FC, East Bengal FC, Dempo FC, and Churchill Brothers FC cannibalizing I-league headlines on sports pages across the country. So there was nothing noteworthy when two teams languishing at the bottom - the Arrows, and Air India - took the field for Match No. 126 that season. Jeje, though, had other plans. In one of the more sublime performances by a 20-year-old Indian in the I-League, he upended a shambolic Air India defense, finding the back of the net four times. Air India were no strangers to lopsided defeats that season - they conceded a league-worst 57 goals that season - but the hat-trick did wonders for the forward’s confidence. It was his first domestic hat-trick in the I-League; a feat repeated twice that season. A week after his first hat-trick, Jeje made his debut for the senior Indian National team against Chinese Taipei; he scored again. * Bob Houghton was annoyed.
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About the Writer
A believer of the Indian football dream and an ardent cricket fan who likes to explore the nuanced side of all sports, Suyash's writing is an extension of himself. Lover of literature and Liverpool FC. @SuyashU