Aizawl FC will come out all guns blazing when they face Shillong Lajong in their bid to become the first team from the Northeast to win the coveted I-League football title.
A draw in the North-East derby will clinch it for Khalid Jamil’s men, who have had a wonderful tournament and are likely to finish on 37 points.
But the triumph is not just about a football club but about the socio-political impact that it will have on Indian football. From being providers to clubs, the team from North East have now carved out a niche for themselves.
Since its inception as National Football League more than two decades ago, the blue riband tournament has been a bastion for the elite clubs of Indian football like Mohun Bagan, East Bengal, JCT (now defunct), Salgaocar, Dempo and Bengaluru FC.
Till date, North East has been the supply line for Indian football -- be it through the finishing school of Tata Football Academy or through the various clubs where some of the biggest names of Indian football have played.
From Sikkimese sniper Bhaichung Bhutia to artistic Manipuri medio like Rennedy Singh -- North-East’s contribution to Indian football has been immense. Mizoram has been a minefield of talent.
While someone like Pachau Lalampuiya went into oblivion, it is current goal-machine of Indian football Jeje Lalpheklhua, who has captured the imagination of Indian football lovers. Call it irony, Jeje played for Mohun Bagan, the side Aizawl is most likely to pip en rourte their title.
A host of local players, two unheralded Mumbai boys -- Jayesh Rane and Ashutosh Mehta along with Syrian midfielder Mahmoud Al Amna formed an interesting mix of players through their dream season.
But as a team, lifting the silverware will be a tremendous boost for the wonderfully receptive and passionate people from the region, who love the beautiful game.
Jamil, meanwhile, accepted that there will be pressure on his side going into tomorrow’s “make or break encounter” but the boys have to give their 100 per cent under any circumstances.
Preparation wise there is nothing much that Aizawl is going to do differently, said Jamil adding that Lajong were no pushovers at home and have displayed tremendous grit all along the season.
Jamil, however, added that Aizawl would definitely want to life the title whoch would be a perfect gift to the thousands of Mizo fans who have stood by the team through thick and thin.
Replying to a question, Jamil said as a coach he cannot allow the stress of the epic encounter to get into him.
“The coach has to be under control,” the former Mumbai FC coach said.
From the beginning of the season we have taken it one match at a time and tomorrow;s gonna be no different, Jamil said.
The news of around 2000 Aizawl fans travelling to Shillong for the NE derby has added extra spice to the tie and on Sunday all roads are certain to lead to the JN Stadium Shillong.
While Aizawl will miss out on the services of Ashutosh Mehta and Alfred Jaryan, both of whom are suspended after receiving four yellow cards, Lajong have an all-fit squad for Sunday.
While it’s a North-East derby but it seems Lajong’s presence is just merely functional. But they can spoil the party something that Mohun Bagan fans will be eagerly waiting.
Ahead of the action on Sunday, Lajong coach Thangboi Singto calmed the nerves stating that though getting three points was all-important for SLFC, the game of football should be the ultimate winner at the end of the day.
For Singto, who aimed for a number 4 finish at the beginning of the season, things have been “positively challenging”.
“Tomorrow will be a very tough game. It’s important for the players stay calm,” the Lajong coach said with a reassuring smile.