Bhogtoram Mawroh was happy the rains cleared at the end of last week so that he could watch the Fourth Division final, which Rynjah won 10 over Nongrah. He gives his analysis of the game here…

After more than a week of heavy rainfall, it was nice to have some clear skies for the weekend. Though the rain didn’t completely abate, it was light enough for games in Polo to take place. One of those games was the final between Nongrah and Rynjah. By dint of finishing at the top of their groups, both teams had already gained promotion to the third division. This game was about the trophy and the bragging rights. 

Befitting a final, it was a well-contested match with both teams having a go at each other. The template for the game was laid early on when an early strike from Rynjah hit the crossbar. Though both teams tried hard to create attacking moves, the only goal scored was more a wonder strike from Aibanskhem Nongshli. And when he scored he did the Ronaldo celebration which has become very popular among players all over the world. This is not the first time I have seen a player do that celebration in the local football circles and I am sure it will not be the last.

Apart from the goal that he scored, Aibanskhem ran the channels quite well, trying to link up with team mates, especially Rishan Kharkongor, who played as the number 10. Behind Rishan, Kmenstar Nongdhar and Rangehbok Lyngkhoi played as the holding midfielders with the shape of the team being 4-4-1-1. 

Of the two, Rangehbok had the more conservative role while Kmenstar was all over the pitch trying to link up with the wide players and create attacking moves. The two worked very well in tandem and ensured midfield domination by Rynjah. 

By comparison the midfield duo of Banpynbiang Marboh and Telesmi Lyngdoh were unable to create much for Nongrah. They were disposed of the ball a lot of times and the passing was not up to the mark. Some of the passes didn’t even have the required pace to reach the intended target. Many of these such passes were easily intercepted by Kmenstar and Rangehbok. The inability of Nongrah’s midfield to impose themselves on the game made sure that Rynjah’s early advantage was never really disturbed. What Rynjah did very well was manage the game once they had scored the early goal.

Nongrah also played with a very similar shape, 4-4-2, but the game plan from both teams were in complete contrast to each other. Rynjah played a more measured game with the midfield creating some very good triangles among themselves and controlling the pace of the game. When a forward pass was not available they simply moved the ball to the back and started again. They never panicked when they had the ball at their feet but kept moving it around very smartly. 

In this Kmenstar’s performance was a standout one. He did a very good job in stitching together some very good moves in the midfield. I don’t remember him being dispossessed. And when the ball was with the opposition players he hounded them and invariably got the ball back. Nongrah did try to keep some possession among themselves but whenever there was a need a little more patience they would simply punt the ball forwards towards Rockystar Kharkongor and Wandaplang Wankhar. I thought Wandaplang played quite well. When there were not many chances being created from the midfield he would drop deep and try to create his own. I was surprised when he was taken off as I thought he could be the one who could have scored the equaliser. 

His partner Rockystar also worked really hard for the team, chasing some lost causes. That shows good attitude and will only help him become a better professional later on. But when the ball came to him, he was unable to keep his shot down and on target. This is what happens when strikers are starved of service for long periods of time. They become too eager when a half chance is created, resulting in fluffed shots.

The other thing that Rynjah did very well was pressing as a team. Whenever the ball was with Nongrah’s midfield or wide players Rynjah’s players would quickly swarm over the player and dispossess him immediately. This happened time and again. On the other hand, Nongrah’s pressing was almost non-existent. The best example of this was in the second half when Rishan was surrounded by two defenders deep in Nongrah’s own half but was still able to play a pass to the forward player. This pattern of play was repeated time and again with Benjamin Lyngdoh especially allowed to play his way out of tight spaces on numerous occasions. There was hardly any pressure on Rynjah’s players when they had the ball. But when Nongrah’s players tried to move with the ball they were quickly dispossessed. Rynjah were thus a more accomplished team tactically. This augurs well for the team when they go the next level where they will be stronger teams awaiting them.

There were, though, a few occasions when Nongrah almost came back into the game. All of these were in the second half. Apart from the occasion when Rockystar found himself with a lot space but wasted the opportunity, there was at least two occasions when Nongrah could have scored the equaliser. The first instance was when Rynjah’s Vivian A Nari was surrounded by Nongrah’s attackers. Outnumbered two to one, if Vivian had lost the ball there it would have been an open chance to score the goal. But the manner in which he turned both the attackers was not only fantastic to see but highlighted the lack of aggression from Nongrah’s players. The other was when Rynjah goalkeeper Akash Thapa misread the situation and came out too early. Whether it was the attacker or the defender chipping the ball over the goalkeeper, Akash was left in no man’s land. Somehow he was able to get fingertips to the ball and turned it away from the goal. 

It was especially heartening to see Rynjah trying to play a patient game and not forcing things. Indian football is going through a transition now with more emphasis on ball possession and control. To be honest even when Savio Medeira was the coach of the Indian team (when Rocus Lamare played the SAFF Cup and AFC Cup in Nepal) India did try to play possession-based football. Wim Koevermans came in with the same intention (he gave Aiborlang Khongjee his national debut) but never really succeeded. It was only with Stephan Constantine (Eugeneson Lyngdoh prospered under him) did direct football improve India’s ranking. Igor Stimac is trying to do the same thing that many had tried before. Whether he succeeds or fails, what this shows is the emphasis on a certain system which will determine what players are going to be selected for the national teams. Judging by the two matches I have watched India play against Tajikistan and North Korea (in the Intercontinental Cup) there are some promising signs but still a long way to go. The most important attribute missing right now in the Indian team is patience and courage with the ball at their feet. This will come with time.

Rynjah’s game plan therefore was very pleasing to see. The team tried to play the way the game in the country is moving towards. Of course fitness levels and the pace of the game have to improve. There needs to be lot more creativity and a lot more potency in attack. This goes for Nongrah as well. The real test will be when a team like Rynjah face stronger teams. Will they change their tactics? I hope they don’t because football in the state has to move ahead with the times. 

This means that from the very bottom to the very top the quality of game has to improve not just in terms of players but tactics as well. In the end I would like to congratulate both Nongrah and especially Rynjah for a great game and the promotion. Cheers!

(TSR photo)

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