History beckons Aizawl FC

The final round match of this season’s I-league fixture will be played here at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium on Sunday. If Aizawl FC is able to force at least a draw it will turn a new chapter in the long history of football in the country.

Thangboi Singto, chief coach of Shillong Lajong FC, with his players duirng a practice session at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Shillong on the eve of their I- League encounter against Aizawl FC.   -  Rajeev Bhatt

Aizawl FC’s attempt at reaching the peak of football glory hinge on the search for a single point which it needs to collect from neighbour Shillong Lajong FC to realise the dream of becoming the first team from North-East to become the champion club of India.

The final round match of this season’s I-league fixture will be played here at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium on Sunday. If Aizawl FC is able to force at least a draw it will turn a new chapter in the long history of football in the country.

Khalid Jamil, the chief coach of Aizawl FC who fashioned the superlative rise of the club, struggled to put a confident smile as the news of his two key players, right-back Ashutosh Mehta and midfield workhorse Alfred Jyran, missing the match owing to suspension (four bookings) went around.

There was more bad news for the visitor as its defensive mainstay Nigerian Kingsley Odumbe Eze spent the major part of the practice attending a painful knee. Aizawl had downed Shillong Lajong FC 2-1 in the season’s first ‘North-East Derby’ in the third round of the tournament midway.

“Beating Shillong Lajong in their home ground is a difficult task. Hope my players give their 100 percent on the ground to make match out of it,” Jamil said about the return match.

Jamil will be leaning heavily on the skills of his Syrian game-maker Mahmoud Al Amna — whose creative play in the previous round’s win against Mohun Bagan was crcial — to deliver one final time.

The names like Jayesh Rane, Brandon Vanlalremdika, Zohmingliana Ralte and Stephane Kamo are some of the stalwarts in the side on whom Jamil will be resting his hopes for the lone point that will fetch Aizawl FC, on 36 points from 17 matches, the glory.

The host will definitely be playing for prestige factor as Lajong, currently placed fifth in the standings, cannot reach the near the podium having 25 points from 17 matches.

East Bengal which is currently lying third has already 30 points from 17 outings. “We would like to end on a high note and that would probably make the encounter an absorbing one,” Thangboi Singo, the long-standing coach of Shillong Lajong FC said.

Singto’s confidence rests on the form of the Cameroon striker Aser Dipanda Dicka, who is the leading claimant for the ‘golden boot’ having already scored 10 goals. Lajong, which has already won many hearts with its youth development initiative playing a host of under-22 players, would be assert it philosophy once again and make a successful finish. With the national federation, AIFF, sending an observer to oversee that the match is played in fair spirit, Singto had all the reason to go for a winning finish.

With the stakes getting high on both the sides, the title decider promises to be keen encounter. But if Jamil’s Aizawl FC picks up the point, it will certainly be a Leicester City FC moment for the tiny state that supplies the most number of professional footballers in the country.

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