Mizoram is the new champion of Indian football

Mizoram fans ensured enough support for their team in Siliguri.-SUSHANTA PATRONOBISH

The team won all the nine matches since the zonal qualifiers to accomplish a 100 percent success rate in the tournament, an unmatched record in recent times. The 68th National football championship in Siliguri, known as the gateway to north-eastern India, served as the perfect locale as Mizoram realised the path to glory. By Amitabha Das Sharma.

Mizoram ushered in a new horizon of hope in Indian football, dispelling the repetitiveness that had come to plague it over the years. The tiny north-eastern state, with a tremendous passion for football, broke the monotony with an evangelical pursuit for excellence and became the new claimant of the Santosh Trophy — the symbol of inter-state supremacy in football.

Adding to the outcome was another feat that put Mizoram’s triumph in a class of its own. It won all the nine matches since the zonal qualifiers to accomplish a 100 percent success rate in the tournament, an unmatched record in recent times. The 68th National football championship in Siliguri, known as the gateway to north-eastern India, served as the perfect locale as Mizoram realised the path to glory, towering over a cluster of former champions — the last one being the Railways in the final.

Mizoram’s presence as a football hotspot in the national map was not unknown. It was for long hailed as the cornucopia of football talents in the country contributing a sizeable number of players who were key performers in a host of big clubs in the I-League. On the present count names like Shylo Malswamtluanga, Lalrindika Ralte, Jeje Lalpekhlua, Robert Lalthlamuana, Lalramluaha Hmar command stellar presence in teams like East Bengal, Bengaluru FC, Dempo and Shillong Lajong. There are many more players from Mizoram plying their trade in different clubs in the country. But with the I-League players not playing in the Santosh Trophy, Mizoram culled talents from the nascent Premier league at home to prepare its “Red Army.”

“After winning the Santosh Trophy we can now claim to have made a permanent impression about our talent. We have believed in our ability for long but we needed the breakthrough, which happened in Siliguri,” said Lalnghinglova Hmar, the secretary of MFA, who is one of the key figures behind Mizoram’s emergence as a football power. “Mizoram’s first National title was the sub-junior (under-16) crown in 2003. Since then our presence in the age group events has been quite significant. But we need the senior title to complete the graduation process.”

The Santosh Trophy came as the cherry on the cake for Mizoram football which also won the inaugural AIFF Award for the ‘Best Member Association’ for its development work at the national association’s annual awards function.

“We had an abundance of raw talent but little infrastructure or plan to help the players,” says Hmar. The Mizo team also won the B. C. Roy Trophy, drubbing Assam 6-1 in the final of the 48th National junior football championship in Ranchi.

A major reshuffle in the Mizoram Football Association, that brought Hmar at the helm of affairs in 2011, realised the long-desired metamorphosis in the nucleus of the state body’s administrative hierarchy. “The situation was not healthy at that moment as Mizoram football then was all about passion and little possibility,” says Hmar, who is one of the prominent figures in the new nomenclature of the MFA. “Things started changing after we introduced the Mizoram Premier League in 2012, which was inaugurated by the country’s biggest star Baichung Bhutia.”

Skipper Zico Zoremsanga (wearing the captain's armband) with his team after the final triumph.-SUSHANTA PATRONOBISH

The state’s performance reflected the organisation and the scientific planning and its players showed the spirit and the skill to execute it. This marked a remarkable transformation as the same state team had hogged controversy in the 2012 edition of the same tournament, which saw terrible on-field violence. The quarterfinal league match saw a total of five ejections as three Mizoram players and two Tamil Nadu players were sent off for participating in a fierce free-for-all battle. Mizoram’s ignominious exit from the tournament ushered in the big change and the MPL was launched a few months after the fiasco.

“That was a sad happening and I kept reminding my players to be particular about their on-field behaviour in the tournament,” said the Mizoram coach H. Vanlalthangla after his team had beaten Tamil Nadu in the semi-finals. That was a good way to avenge the loss as Mizoram exited the 2012 tournament losing against same side in the violence-riddled match. Vanlalthangla’s Red Army, which suffered the jeers only a couple of seasons ago, received all the cheers for its outstanding comeback win against Tamil Nadu.

Mizoram’s ascent to prominence was largely shaped by its captain Zico Zoremsanga, who like a real general led the Red Army from the front. Zoremsanga scored thrice in the decisive stage — once in the semi-final and twice in the final — to emerge as the real hero in Mizoram’s triumph. The striker impressed with his temperament and was the real fox in the opponent’s box with his fine sense of positioning. Showing all the attributes of a top marksman Zoremsanga scored five goals in the final phase to crown Mizoram’s fairy-tale journey in the tournament.

The diminutive David Lalrinmuana was the livewire in the Mizoram midfield and he was assisted commendably by the ever-agile Lalbiakhlua on the wings. Ricky Lallawmawma, the left-back, was the vital element in Mizoram’s attack orientation. The player combined his interceptive skills in defence with an attacking zeal, which saw him going on effective overlaps to lend good support to the forward line.

“This is a big thing for the boys and I believe this will be the stepping stone for Mizoram football,” Vanlalthangla said after the triumph. “Winning the Santosh Trophy had been a long cherished dream and it feels great that we could realise it in style,” said the team manager Lalbiakzuala, who is also the technical secretary of the MFA. “I am sure that the success will inspire a Mizoram club to qualify for the I-League and win it.”

The results:

Final: Mizoram 3 (Zico Zoremsanga 44, 61, F. Lalrinpuia 90+1) beat Railways 0.

Semi-finals: Mizoram 3 (David Lalrinmuana 61, Zico Zoremsanga 94, F. Lalrinpuia 119) beat Tamil Nadu 1 (A. Reagan 45+2); Railways 5 (1) (Sushil Kisku 70-pen) beat Maharashtra 3 (1) (Mohammad Shafiq 24) in tie-breaker.