Highlanders Aizawl FC are riding the prayers of 1.1 million people in Mizoram to cross the Mohun Bagan hurdle in Saturday’s crucial Hero I-League match that could decide the 2016-17 champions.
Aizawl FC are eyeing their first title in their second I-League season while Mohun Bagan took the crown in 2014-15. A victory will make Aizawl FC the first team from football-crazy Northeast to win a top-tier soccer title in the country.
Both teams have 33 points from 16 matches, but Mohun Bagan have the head-to-head advantage over Aizawl FC, having beaten the Mizoram team 3-2 in Kolkata.
To win the I-League title, Aizawl FC need to win by a margin of minimum two goals. A draw would mean Mohun Bagan taking the advantage to the next match with Chennai City FC on April 30, the day when Aizawl FC will lock horns with the Meghalaya-based Shillong Lajong.
Gearing up for tactical battle
The two teams have thus “chalked out a strategy” to deny each other a shot at the title.
“Aizawl FC have been playing extraordinary football in all their matches. Anything can happen on the pitch tomorrow (Saturday), but the pressure is more on the home side as it is a must-win situation for them, not us,” Mohun Bagan coach Sanjoy Sen said ahead of the crucial I-League match.
But the pressure appears to be on Mohun Bagan forward Jeje Lalpekhlua, from Hnathial in Mizoram’s Champhai district. “Playing before the passionate Mizo football fans will be exhilarating. This is a very special match as my family is coming to watch,” he said.
Jeje asserted his allegiance to his club, admitting that scoring against Aizawl FC could disappoint the home fans.
No extra pressure on Aizawl FC
Aizawl FC forward Brandon Vanlalremdika said his team was not feeling any extra pressure. “All our players are relaxed and though this match is important, we are treating it as any other I-League match and our focus is on giving it our best.”
Aizawl FC coach Khalid Jamil said his stint with the Mizoram club has taught him patience. “Ours is a team that changes its game from attacking to defensive as required. All players, the Mizo boys too, have given 100 % so far and need to be at their best again tomorrow.”
The focus, he added, was on finishing the season as best as possible.
The match will kick off at 2 pm on Saturday at Rajiv Gandhi Stadium at Mualpui on the outskirts of Aizawl. The Mizoram Football Association expects more people than the 5,000 the stadium can hold.