Rangdajied United have often been second-best in major tournaments over the years but yesterday they grabbed the ultimate glory by becoming champions of the Meghalaya State League 2023. Bhogtoram Mawroh was on hand to watch them in person…

After 10 years of pain, Rangdajied United were finally able to get their hands on a major trophy, the Meghalaya Super League.

They were in the final in the second edition in 2019, going up against Shillong Lajong, to whom they lost. But this time around, they were able to overcome the first leg deficit of 3-0 in the semifinals against the same opponents to win the second leg in a tiebreaker. This was something that was quite unexpected, since Lajong were not just Rangdajied’s bogey team but had also qualified for the next edition of the I-League and were thus riding high on confidence. But the spectacular second leg win showed that something had changed in the team. That, for me, is the killer mentality that I always thought Rangdajied had lacked. They always had a very strong team but somehow they missed that spark that could take them across the line. This year that changed and they became the third champions of the Meghalaya Super League, the third different champions in the three editions so far, which is a very good thing for Meghalaya football.

Coming to the final itself, Khliehmawlieh arrived at the final after beating Mawlai in the second leg, overturning a first leg deficit in a similar manner to Rangdajied. I might be forgiven for thinking that their appearance in the final was not predicted by anyone. There must have been a consensus at the beginning of the tournament that if there’s any team that can challenge the Shillong-based clubs, it would have to come from the Jowai group, which had Niaw Wasa, the first champions of the tournament. So, Khliehmawlieh’s entry into the final is a great sign that there is a lot of talent all over the state and tournaments like this can help unearth it.

After watching a few matches, some in person and others on YouTube, it is clear that there are quite a few good players in the different teams outside Shillong as well. They have also shown that, physically, they can compete against the more-favoured teams. But if there’s one aspect of the game in which they are lacking, it’s in terms of tactics. The final was a good example of that.

Both Rangdajied and Khliehmawlieh lined up in a 4-3-3 formation. For Rangdajied, the back four was made up of Apborlang Kurbah, Niawkorlang Kyndiah, Arlangky Nongsiej and Balamlynti Khongjee. In the midfield, Knerktilang Buam played as the holding midfielder, with Dibormi Kassar and Bansanbha Khongsdam as his partners. The attack was led by Wanlamsuk Nongkhlaw, supported by Tremiki Lamurong from the right and Arkwis Wanniang from the left. In goal, they had Banshanskhem Kharsyntiew.

Khliehmawlieh had a similar formation, which showed that they were willing to go toe-to-toe with Rangdajied. They had Handbill Savio Syiemlieh in goal and played Donkupar Marngar, Mainingstar Marngar, Andistar Rashir and Dapan Marwein as the back four. The captain, Lenny Kravity Lyngdoh, occupied the holding midfield position and around him were Kynjai Marthong and Shelbikstar Marngar. Lambiangstone Nongkseh played as the central striker, with Kyntiew Marthong occupying the attacking position from the left and Livingstone Nongrah from the right. To be honest, I have never heard of these players and that alone is the success of this tournament. Hopefully some of these can be picked up by the Shillong-based teams so that we can see more of them in the upcoming days.

Khliehmawlieh began very well, trying to build from the back and looking very comfortable with the ball. Lenny played a very important role in this by receiving the ball from the defence and making sure the team did not lose its shape. However, going forward, they were facing a lot of problems with Rangdajied being very aggressive and looking to win the ball as quickly as possible. As soon as the ball was played to one of Khliehmawlieh’s forward players, their marker would immediately step forward to intercept and win the ball. And even when a forward player was able to receive the ball, Rangdajied players immediately surrounded and dispossessed him.

Once Rangdajied had the ball, they expertly passed it among themselves, blunting any attempt at counterattack. In fact, it was the performance of the midfield trio of Knerktilang, Dibormi and Bansanbha that ensured that Rangdajied kept the game under their control. It was a very professional performance from the three, showing a great deal of composure and maturity. Kner was the holding midfielder tasked with breaking up the attacks and providing cover to the defence but he was still able to play some forward passes. This, however, was not the case with Khliehmawlieh.

Khliehmawlieh’s holding midfielder and captain Lenny looked really good with the ball at his feet, using his body well and always being in position to receive the ball. However, there were many occasions when he could have played a forward pass but chose to play it square or give it back to the defence. He also slowed the game down a little, which was a disadvantage for the team that was chasing after going a goal down early in the game. So, while he does look like a good player, he will have to improve his game, especially in quickening the transition from defence to attack. His midfield partners, Kynjai and Shelbikstar, worked really hard but, without the ball, they were unable to create many chances for their attackers. On the other hand, Rangdajied were opening up spaces all over the place because of their midfield dominance, especially on the right side, where Tremiki and Apborlang were playing.

While Balamlynti himself is quite an attacking fullback, and I have enjoyed watching him play since his U-19 days, it was Apborlang who was the more attacking threat to Khliehmawlieh. Time and again, he was able to get into open spaces to attack the goal, either on his own or by providing crosses into the ball. His partnership with Tremiki, who would pull defenders away from position to allow Apborlang to bomb forward, was a treat to watch. Getting defenders out of position and creating space for attack is something that teams like Khliehmawlieh and others will have to learn from teams like Rangdajied. There was actually an instance from an earlier game that epitomised this tactical awareness that I feel other teams from smaller associations can learn from.

Just to digress, in the game between Mawlai and Jyntru, a high cross was played from the midfield to the left side of the pitch, from where Donborlang Nongkynrih and Allen Lyngdoh Nongbri were playing. Donborlang knew that he would not be able to get to the ball but still ran towards it, taking Jytru’s right back, Franklin Lymphuid, with him. This created space for Allen to receive the ball and attack the goal. Franklin’s reaction to getting fooled was a priceless one but hopefully something that he would have learned to help him develop his play. Coming back to the final, the opening up of spaces, especially on the right, was crucial for many of Rangdajied’s best moves and it was not a surprise that the goal also came from a cross from the right, which was expertly taken by Wanlamsuk, who released a powerful shot that gave the goalkeeper no chance.

Wanlamsuk has been around for some time with Rangdajied but has never been quite as prolific as expected from a striker playing for a top team. However, this time around he was able to deliver on the most important stage and hopefully this will open the floodgates for him.

He reminds me a bit of Mawlai’s Donlad Diengdoh due to the fact that he works very hard for his team, always running and pulling the defence while creating spaces for other attackers. Even in this game he did the same and here lies my only complaint about Rangdajied. In the first half, there were many occasions when either Tremiki or Apborlang were able to get into attacking positions from the flanks. But when they were looking to cross the ball, there was no one in the box. As usual, Wanlamsuk was attracting the defenders to follow him into the field, but neither Dibormi nor Bansanbha were running into the box to get on the end of a potential cross. I was especially hoping that Dibormi would attack the box since, with his physicality, he had a better chance of winning headers. It was only in the second half that Batskhemlang Thangkhiew, who came as a substitute, started attacking the box, trying to win headers.

Rangdajied could have scored a few more goals if their midfield had been a little more adventurous. In the future, especially in the Shillong Premier League, they will need runners from midfield to attack the box. This was something Phrangki Buam did very well, scoring a lot of goals for Lajong. Rangdajied will need that kind of player if they want to win their next trophy.

Khliehmawlieh tried very hard and did have their moments but could not do much in the face of a very professional Rangdajied performance, which only started getting rattled at the latter stages of the game. Otherwise, it was a clinical performance, with the performance of their goalkeeper, Banshanskhem Kharsyntiew, being the only slight blemish. A couple of his clearances were really poor and could have led to goals but he was lucky to get away with them. He was also quite unsure coming off his line. Especially in the second half, there was a particular moment when Khliehmawlieh got a free-kick and the ball was played into the box. Banshanskhem was rooted in his position, while Rangdajied’s defender was able to put off the attacker just enough to blunt the opportunity. But this is something I have noticed quite a lot from goalkeepers playing for the different teams in Shillong. They are very unsure, especially under high balls.

During Langsning’s group game with Mawlai, it was a mistake from their goalkeeper, Daraphun Talang, that allowed Mawlai to stage a comeback. In the last two Santosh Trophy campaigns, both of Meghalaya’s goalkeepers, Frolicson Dkhar and Rajat Paul Lyngdoh, were very hesitant under high balls. I feel it’s a lack of aggression that’s the problem here.

I remember a particular game when Nangkiew Irat were playing in the SPL and Maitshaphrang Kharumnuid was the goalkeeper. He was irate at his players and tried to raise the level of aggression by thumping his chest and berating them for being scared. Then there was a Santosh Trophy game between Assam and Meghalaya when Padam Chettri was in the goal. A penalty was awarded to Assam, which was not converted. Padam bumped his chest into the back of the attacker, reminding him who the boss was. I loved these two incidents so much because they reminded me of the peculiar characters goalkeepers are and should always be. I hope the goalkeepers mentioned will show some more aggression in the future. Get off the line and punch the ball; it doesn’t matter if you take your own player in the process. Be aggressive is what I would tell them because I hope some of them will be playing on a bigger stage soon where there will be more physicality and aggression.

I remember when Lajong were playing against Real Kashmir the year they got relegated from the I-League in 2018-19. Phrangki was in good form and was the main threat. Real Kashmir understood this very well and gave him very rough treatment from the beginning, although he was still a very young player. There was no mercy, and there will be none, as the competition and stakes are going to be very high. Our goalkeepers need to understand that and imbibe a little bit of aggression in their game. That, in my opinion, will help them improve.

Khliehmawlieh did very well to come this far but the final was a bridge too far to cross. For Rangdajied, on the other hand, it was a moment of redemption and they will hope that this heralds the start of a new era for them. For me, what their win does is set up the upcoming SPL very nicely. You will have three ‘champions’ playing for the trophy – the defending champions, Mawlai; the new I-League entrants (though they were actually runners-up in the Second Division League) Shillong Lajong; and the new MSL champions Rangdajied.

This promises to be a very good year for Meghalaya football and I am very much looking forward to it. So, congratulations again to Khliehmawlieh for giving us good memories and all the best to Rangdajied for their future campaigns.

(TSR photo)

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