Shillong, Dec 4: Meghalaya qualified for the final round of the men’s Senior National Football Championship 2021-22 by winning both of their group matches in the North East zonal round. While the results were solid ones, coach Bobby Lyngdoh Nongbet knew it wouldn’t be easy after the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Renowned for his success in youth football, Lyngdoh Nongbet thanked the Meghalaya Football Association’s senior cell for nominating him to lead this season’s campaign in the prestigious Santosh Trophy.

“My sincere thanks to my support staff of coaches and manager – Bah May (Mayoustar Warbah), coach Dious (Lapasam), coach Jeffrey (Warlarpih), coach Kitbor (Kharkongor) who kept believing in the team,” he added.

However, while the state can rejoice in progressing to the Santosh Trophy nationals (which will be held in Kerala), the selection of the Meghalaya squad has drawn some criticism. Although the players themselves hail from all over Khasi-Jaintia Hills (there were no Garo Hills players), they all play their club football for Shillong-based teams. This has been a feature of Meghalaya squads for years now and it riles those who feel that footballers outside the state capital are not given due consideration.

This point was addressed by Lyngdoh Nongbet even though, as coach, he wouldn’t have full responsibility in selection.

“It has been a tough and tight process of selection from the list of players provided by the senior cell of the MFA,” he said. “It took almost a month and a lot of observation and training to filter and get to the final squad for the qualifiers. It was a tough affair nominating the squad itself since there were no active competitions, trainings and leagues for the last two years or so.”

“Nevertheless, the team was set and it wasn’t easy considering their fitness levels and form. For once, I thought it was going to be really tough,” Lyngdoh Nongbet added. But every other team would likewise be in the same boat. “So, we kept training hard and we mentored and encouraged the boys into believing that we will do it but that it will not be easy.”

Just a few zonal matches remain in other parts of the country and, following these, will come the final round in Kerala comprising the winners of each group. Meghalaya has never won the Santosh Trophy. Within the last 10 years, though, the state team has won the Sub-Junior National Football Championship in 2019 and there were school sides that were champions of the U-17 boys’ Subroto Cup titles in 2013 and 2019 and Shillong Lajong won the U-18 Youth League in 2018. The latter two were with Lyngdoh Nongbet as coach.

Time to dream about a senior men’s title, then?

“Moving forward now, we will need to sharpen our efforts on the training field before we hit the final round!” he stated before signing off with a final thank you.

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