Shillong, Mar 17: Smit SC reclaimed the Assam Rifles Invitational Football Cup with a 5-4 victory on penalties against the Assam Rifles Laitkor team after full time ended 1-1 at the JN Stadium here today.

The final of the third edition of the tournament was the closest ever, unsurprising as it featured the 2016 champions Smit and Assam Rifles, who won the tournament last year. Both sides created plenty of opportunities throughout the 90 minutes, but such was the high level of competition and the evenly matched teams, the first goal took a long time in coming.

L Santa Singh bagged Assam Rifles’ lone goal in the 83rd minute through a free-kick that he placed to the left of Smit goalkeeper Maitshaphrang Kharumnuid.

Smit, however, were not keen on giving up and with full time almost in sight they earned a corner, which was cleared away, but Andy Mawthoh was in place for a follow-up attack and he smashed the ball into the back of the net for the equaliser.

With full time ending deadlocked the match was taken to penalties directly instead of first going through extra time.

The shootout was just as intense as the rest of the match and the enthusiastic fans were kept on the edge of their seats as even the usual five penalty kicks failed to separate the two teams. Sudden death, however, saw Assam Rifles fold and Smit were able to celebrate a fantastic victory.

As champions Smit took home Rs 1 lakh and the coveted trophy, while the Assam Rifles team were awarded Rs 50,000, which they generously decided to share with the other clubs that participated in the competition.

Sixteen teams from around the state vied for the coveted trophy in the knock-out tournament, which began on 7th March. The competition was organised by Assam Rifles in collaboration with the Meghalaya Football Association.

The Assam Rifles Laitkor team at the prize distribution ceremony with their runners-up trophy and cheque

In his welcome speech Officiating Assistant Director General Ashish Jindal welcomed the dignitaries and fans and said, “We at Assam Rifles are totally aware of the passion and enthusiasm the people of the North East, and Meghalaya in particular, have for football. Many people from Meghalaya have represented India in football and to promote budding football talent, we hold this tournament every year. I extend our gratitude to the government of Meghalaya and the Meghalaya Football Association for extending support in organising this tournament.”

Meanwhile, Director General Assam Rifles and patron of the tournament, Lt Gen Shokin Chauhan, reiterated the force’s commitment to the people of the North East in all spheres of life.

“Assam Rifles has been at the forefront of promoting youth, whether it be through sport, culture or music. We are intimately involved in the security and developmental activities in the entire North East since 1835,” Lt Gen Chauhan said. “We are aware that the people of Meghalaya are passionate about their sport, especially football. We share your zeal. Hence we started the Assam Rifles Invitational Football Cup so that we can celebrate and cherish this fabulous sport. The tournament is an opportune moment to learn about each other and form lasting relationships and I hope every football player takes advantage of this opportunity as afforded them by Assam Rifles.”

In the distribution of the individual awards, Zuala of Assam Rifles was given the Golden Boot for his five goals, while K Richard Lyngdoh of Mawpat was named Best Custodian.

Besides the football action, the spectators were also entertained by a kukri dance, mass band performance and jazz band during the festivities.

(Photos contributed by Assam Rifles)

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