Friday, May 24, 2024

Rangdajied, Mawlai primed for SPL 2023 c’ship showdown


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Shillong, May 10: For two seasons now Mawlai SC and Rangdajied United FC have been the strongest clubs in the Shillong Premier League and the pair will take to the field one last time in SPL 2023 on Saturday, at 3pm in the final to decide this season’s champions.
Mawlai were victorious in 2022 and will want to retain their title but Rangdajied, runners-up last season, will look to go all the way this time and get their hands on the champions’ trophy.
RUFC topped the standings of the round robin stage of SPL 2023 with 18 points from seven games, while defending champions Mawlai finished second on 16. Rangdajied then met third-placed Shillong Lajong FC in the first semifinal, winning 1-0, while Mawlai played fourth-placed Langsning FC the next day and won a thriller 2-1.
Because of a paucity of time, it was agreed before the season began by the Shillong Sports Association and the eight participating teams that the SPL, usually held over two legs, would be reduced to a single leg this time with knockouts to follow. It was also decided that there would be no relegation this season.
In their only meeting this year, Rangdajied won a heated round robin contest 2-1 against Mawlai on 26 April.Although they hold the edge, the final will be a completely different ball game, as both clubs know very well.
Speaking today a day before the final, Mawlai SC Joint Secretary Esekiel S Mon and Assistant Coach Jerry A Sutnga said that three senior players are doubtful due to injury. Remark Kharmalki has been out almost the entire season but Donlad Diengdoh and Raikutshisha Buam are more recent casualties – both missed the semifinal. However, the young guns Mawlai has employed this season have shone on the field, backed up by the tremendous experience of captain Brolington Warlarpih and fellow seasoned traveller Fullmoon Mukhim. Mawlai had begun their preparations for this season in September last year and, though the SPL start had to be delayed to March this year, that time was well spent training the youngsters in the squad under the watchful eye of new coach Hering Shangpliang, who brought a wealth of experience with him when he joined the club.
“Rangdajied are a strong team since the start of last season. We encourage all the people from the various localities of Mawlai to come and support the team tomorrow, which would give the players huge encouragement,” Mon said, adding that around half of the players in the squad are actually from Mawlai.
On the other side of the equation is Rangdajied United. Since they finished second in SPL 2022, RUFC had a massive 2023 when they won the 3rd Meghalaya State League title, a first for them. That opened the way for the club to travel to Goa where they participated in the All India Football Federation’s I-League 3.
To be able to carry on with that consistent good form is credit to the club, not just the players but the backroom staff as well.
“We learned a lot from SPL 2022 and the MSL but winning the SPL is very important for our team’s reputation,” Head Coach Aibanjop Shadap explained today. “From the technical and tactical side we have to try and be persistent. Our senior players have really guided our younger ones and we believe as a club in giving the youth the opportunity to test themselves on such a big stage.”
As for the final game, Shadap explained that he has no injury worries as coach and knows that his players need to be at their very best to take on Mawlai. “Any team that reaches the final will be very good. They have to be strong and prepared and Mawlai are definitely that,” he said. The final, like the semis before it, are knockouts and call for a different sort of approach. “The mindset has to be different and you cannot take the match in the same way as a round robin fixture,” Shadap added.
The final will kick-off at 3pm at the SSA Stadium at First Ground, Polo.


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