Rangdajied United’s late resurgence

The triumphant Rangdajied United FC team.-K. MURALI KUMAR

Bottom of the table halfway through the final phase, the Shillong club staged a phenomenal recovery, winning all five remaining games to qualify for the I-League as champion, writes Shreedutta Chidananda.

They would later erupt in loud jubilation, back in the comfort of their dressing room, but in the first moments after the final whistle, there was little reaction. Rangdajied United’s promotion-winning heroes stood around dazed at the Bangalore Football Stadium, unsure how to react as the cameras popped away.

With a 3-1 defeat of Emta Mohammedan Sporting on the penultimate day of the second division I-League season, Rangdajied swept into the top tier of Indian football for the first time in its history. Bottom of the table halfway through the final phase, the Shillong club staged a phenomenal recovery, winning all five remaining games to qualify for the I-League as champion.

“This is the finest day in our history,” the club’s General Secretary K. S. Kurbah said afterwards. “We have worked so hard for this day. While we were preparing, I remember not allowing the players to go home for a single day. They obeyed me, and today we are reaping the dividends.”

Known as Ar Hima FC since it was founded in 1987, the club was renamed last year. “We changed our name to Rangdajied, which means a union of heroes, and here we are,” Kurbah beamed.

Few would disagree that Rangdajied deserved to make it through, on its fourth attempt. The coach Khlaim Pyrkhatsyiemlieh set his side out to play fluent attacking football, and stuck to his principles despite a lack of success in the early stages. “We’ve always been an attacking side,” he said. “Even today, we only slowed down because the opponent gave up after two goals.” The team’s Nigerian striker Babatunde Ayomide finished as the joint-top-scorer in the final phase, netting eight times, while the captain Restom Khriam, Abocha Singh, and the Korean Ho Jun Shin were excellent.

If, in Rangdajied, the I-League will have a debutant for the 2013-14 season, then in Mohammedan Sporting — who qualified in second place — it will welcome an old acquaintance. Out of the top flight for four years, the Kolkata giant secured promotion with a match to spare.

Under Sanjoy Sen, who was unceremoniously relieved of his duties at Prayag United in the winter and took over at Sporting only in February, the side conceded only three goals till promotion was confirmed (nine matches).

“When I took over, the morale of the team was very low,” Sen said. “It was a big challenge for me to lift it. I told them about the history of the club, what qualification to the premier division means to this club.”

Qualifying early meant that Mohammedan Sporting did not take its final game against Rangdajied all that seriously. Bhawanipore FC, which was in competition with Rangdajied for the other berth, did not take this very well. The club’s Brazilian coach Juliano Fontana was visibly displeased that Sporting had seemingly rolled over. But he can have no complaints; all teams had 10 games to shape their future. Bhawanipore, whose Brazilian strikers Jose Barreto and Hudson Lima da Silva provided much entertainment, eventually finished third.

There will have been disappointment for Mumbai Tigers, too. The club, formed last year on the back of big private investment, has made no secret of its tall ambitions. Qualifying for the I-League would have been the least of its expectations this time. But after a good show in the first phase, Bimal Ghosh’s men tailed off, losing their last five games in the final phase to end a poor fifth.

The challenge for Rangdajied and Mohammedan Sporting is now to strengthen their squads and remain in the I-League. “The last three times Mohammedan Sporting has gone up and come straight back down,” Sen said. “I don’t want that to happen. I ask that the supporters stay patient because success does not come instantly.”