Shillong, Jun 16: After a month’s worth of amazing football between the state’s best clubs, the final of the Meghalaya State League 2023 beckons for Khliehmawlieh Youth Club and Rangdajied United FC, both eager to get their hands on the coveted trophy for the very first time.

The title match will be held at the SSA Stadium at First Ground, Polo, here. The kick-off will be at 3PM, though pre-match entertainment will begin at 2PM, with the highlight being a performance by the talented young singer Jessie Lyngdoh, who composed the MSL 2023 anthem.

The road to the final has been an incredible one for both sides. The two finalists were unbeaten throughout the group stage – Rangdajied topping Group B and Khliehmawlieh Group D. However, the two were on the backfoot after their first leg of semifinals – Rangdajied 3-0 behind to Shillong Lajong and Khliehmawlieh 1-0 down to Mawlai. Two of the best comebacks in Meghalaya football history then took place on 13th June, with Khliehmawlieh storming to a 3-1 win (3-2 on aggregate), while Rangdajied had a 3-0 victory of their own and then won the resulting penalty shootout.

The two victors are thus on a huge high going into the final and both expressed optimism at the pre-match press conference today.

“The semifinal result has given our players a lot of encouragement. But we have to continue to play well,” Rangdajied assistant coach Aibanjop Shadap said. “Teams that get to the final deserve to be there because they’ve worked hard and I expect a strong performance from Khliehmawlieh,” he added when asked about the opponents tomorrow.

It would have appeared to many that RUFC’s hopes had been dashed after that 3-0 defeat and captain Niawkorlang Kyndiah said that the players were understandably down at the final whistle. “After the first leg we were disappointed to concede three goals but we were determined to fight back. We really want the trophy and we will give it our all,” he said.

Winning the trophy would be one step higher than what Rangdajied achieved in 2019 when they were runners-up to Lajong and they have already made history by being the first club to reach two MSL finals. Khliehmawlieh were not able to progress out of the group stage in 2019 and this is their first experience of the knockouts.

What has been wonderful for their players is the level of crowd support they have had, with fans travelling from West Khasi Hills for their group games in Tura. The semifinal against Mawlai in Shillong also saw Khliehmawlieh fans outnumber those from local side Mawlai.

“Expectations are high of both teams. We have put in a lot of hard work since the beginning,” Khliehmawlieh vice-captain Liverson Iawphniaw said. “It would be an historic moment for the club and the whole of West Khasi Hills if we lift the trophy.”

KYC manager Joyfulstar Marngar paid tribute to all the travelling fans and urged them to come out again tomorrow for one very important match.

Incidentally, Khliehmawlieh and Rangdajied have met in the MSL before, back in 2019 when they were both drawn together in the Mawkyrwat group; that meeting ended 1-0 in Rangdajied’s favour.

As has been the case in the past two editions of the MSL, this year has seen matches take place across the state.

“Our thanks go to all the local organising committees for holding all the group matches and semifinals up to this point,” Tournament Director Wanshanbor Kharkrang said. “The whole point of the MSL is to give match time to champion teams in the various districts. Not that they just play their local league and stop. With the MSL they also get big financial incentives that are provided by the state government through the Department of Sports and Youth Affairs.”

One of the other thought processes is to encourage young players as seen through the U-21 rule that mandates teams to field at least one player in this age bracket. This will help in scouting and developing players for the state team in future years, the Meghalaya Football Association feels.

A particularly pleasing element of this season’s MSL is that it has not been a cakewalk for the big Shillong clubs. Rangdajied experienced a strong challenge in Group B from Ladthadlaboh and Mulait United, while Lajong, though unbeaten, did not win all their matches. Mawlai were the only team to win all their group games but then came undone spectacularly on Tuesday.

Khliehmawlieh will go into the final as the underdogs once again but Rangdajied are also extremely hungry for a major trophy after a gap of several years. Whoever comes out on top, the result will be a hugely significant one for these Meghalaya clubs.

(Meghalaya Football Association photo. (L-R) Khliehmawlieh vice-captain Liverson Iawphniaw and Rangdajied United captain Niawkorlang Kyndiah with the MSL trophy)

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