Author: Moinak Banerjee

Up-close with Lajong custodian Phurba Tempa Lachenpa

SHILLONG: Shillong Lajong has always produced creative set of football over the years in I-League. The mountainous side in-builded some cracking talents and from here Indian football took up a different improvising look.

Shilong Lajong began the new campaign in the I-League brightly after winning their first two home games. But then find themselves thrashed by East Bengal in the first away fixture of the 2017/18 campaign. In for a turn back sequence, they carried on their excellency by sharing a point against mighty Mohun Bagan and then winning the mountainous derby against Aizawl FC, the rivals who previously carried a descent record in this clash.

Here our correspondent Moinak Banerjee caught up with Lajong’s talented goalkeeper Phurba Tempa Lachenpa, who started from the club’s academy and went on to wear the No 1 shirt this season, about the current proclamation they did in the league so far.

IndiaFooty: First of all Congratulations! Lachenpa! To you and your team for an excellent performance against Aizawl in the mountainous derby. Tell us how significant this victory was for your team?

Lachenpa: Thank you very much! For us this was an important victory as with this victory we are in top two in the table and it’s always great to win away from home and that’s also in a derby so we are glad that we got an important three points. Last year we lost the derby away to Aizawl so this was a great win for us.

IndiaFooty: Also you snatched a point out of a strengthened Mohun Bagan side and now a win against the Champions. What are these events declare about Shillong’s target in the new campaign?

Lachenpa: We are taking one game each by keeping the team’s goals to finish as good position as we can, but it’s too soon to tell but obviously we have dreams and it’s obviously the best after the league is over.

IndiaFooty: Was that defeat to East Bengal was sort of a turning point for you all? To gear up for rest of the games?

Lachenpa: We don’t think it was a turning point it’s just that we had a bad game and I-League is a competitive league so obviously some results are bound to go that way.

IndiaFooty: Last season Vishal Keith played a prominent role in between the sticks. Now he is playing for ISL. How do you feel to wear that jersey and as a contributor of your role?

Lachenpa: The club and the coach believed in me so there was no reason to take any pressure, I just had to play my natural game and I’m doing that and I have a long way to go ahead.

IndiaFooty: Some of the main players in Lajong’s squad departed either for ISL or chose playing for heavyweights in the I-League. How you all cope up with all of this for the preparation of this campaign? Was it a blessing for young starlets to shine on big stage?

Lachenpa: The club has one of the best youth setups in India and we as a player believed in the management and every year there are player coming out from academy and each player know each other well so there is nothing much to cope and talking about opportunity for young players Lajong has always given opportunity to young players, you can take for last few seasons we were the youngest squad so opportunity it’s always there for young players in Lajong whatever the circumstances are in Indian football.

IndiaFooty: Thank you Lachenpa it’s been a pleasure to converse with you in this delirious interview. Last of all, what do you want to exclaim about the state of Indian football?

Lachenpa: It’s my pleasure and as a player and football fan we just want best for the Indian football.

I-League 2017/18: Willis Plaza scored the decider for East Bengal in a five-goal thriller against Churchill

KOLKATA: A spirited Churchill Brothers side ultimately nodded their head when forgotten man Willis Plaza stroke home a dramatic winner at the very end to earn East Bengal three most vital points at Barasat.

East Bengal went on to pursuit for maximum points from this fixtures but they eventually did in a hardfold way as last boy Churchill showed their recovery on the path, before of which they never scored or registered a point on their board. Growing talents like Kituan produced a spectacular show between the sticks but that was not enough for him to prevent his team to suffer defeat for the consecutively fourth time.

The red and yellow brigade were hatching on four points from first three games prior to the clash. But unlike Churchill they scored a huge amount of goal which also include a 5-1 thrashing of Shillong Lajong. For Khalid Jamil it was another stern test to prove his worth as the rightful manager after numerous critics penned himself down with a point against Aizawl in the opening day and a Derby loss to arch rivals Mohun Bagan. But the win against Lajong brought some satisfaction to the board to sit quite and observe him from the next couple of games.

The Goan side had their coach Mykola Shevchenko stripped off from his job with assistant coach Alfred Fernandes stepping up to fill up the vacancy. Though a win never came on board, their performance was surely was to admire about in their 1-0 loss to champions Aizawl. Fernandes’ task was to put that positivity into work.

In the game, Churchill began strongly overpowering Bengal’s defense now and then through the brilliance of Uttam Rai and Larung. Vaz was also looking excellent throughout the game. All that early pressure forced East Bengal to push back and back until they concede in 16th minute. Rai managed to cut inside Arnab Mondol and escaped Eduardo’s marking to make the pass to Vaz who tracked Peter’s run. The latter exclusively stroked past the stranded keeper to score the first ever goal Churchill has managed this season.

But that was a timely happiness because in the next minute they were scratching their heads. A misreading by center back Monday allowed Plaza to place a cunning pass in the path of galloping right back Lalramchullova Ralte. Ralte completed most simplest of task with a creamy conversion. This scenes erupted the fans on the gallery as they began to roar much louder.

The Mashals next leaped for everything that would bargain them a lead before the closure of the first half. First chance fell to Willis Plaza who absolutely did no favour in scuffing his shot over the crossbar after Katsumi’s run came in a disappointing end. Then Al Amna produced some runs followed by Ralte staggering crosses but neither materialized into useful circumstances.
Finally before the last action of the first half, Katshumi opens up space on the left to swing up a cross which was met by Plaza, leaping high over everyone and scoring his first I league goal of the new season.

It was also similar tale in the second for Churchill once again perished Bengal’s defense. Vaz was again involved in the build up and that allowed Osagie to loop a ball to the arrived guest Nicolas Fernandes inside the six yard area. That pass was completely miscued by Prakash and with a drop volley over the goalkeeper Fernandes didn’t stopped to celebrate their second.

Jamil made quick thinking after these series of events and invited some fresh legs on the pitch. The gamble played though for red and brigade increase their bodies at the front.

Churchill then unleashed their last man of defense to produce something truly immaculate to watch. Kituan’s pair of arms was simply outstanding as he seems to prevent every effort that came to his fort. His duel save from Wilis Plaza and Al Amna gave him much value to claim the man of the match award of the evening. But it seems match prosecutor made the decision quite hastily with real endurance still to make its call.

At the deciding end of the game, from the resulting corner of Katsumi, Wilis Plaza’s thumping header made the points in a five goal thriller against a confident grown team of Churchill Brothers.

Exclusive: “People are crazy about football in Mizoram” says Aizawl FC’s defender Masih Saighani

AIZAWL: Masih Saighani is one of the signings that Champions Aizawl FC has done prior to the I league season to rebuild their shape in order to defend the title that the mountainous club won for the very first time in their history.

Aizawl also played deligantly in their local tournament, Mizoram Premier league and earned finalist spot.

So, for, Moinak Banerjee caught up with the Center back to know more about the glory tale and his views on Indian football.

Moinak: Congratulations Masih to you and your team Aizawl for the brilliant performance that you all showcased to be the finalist in the Mizoram premier league. So can we say that was step ahead for the preparation for the I league?

Masih: Thank u, first we all were disappointed because if you play a final you want to win it also , I think we was the better team but couldn’t score that day , Congrats again to chhienga veng if  you play constant like them you deserved to be the champion .

This MPL (Mizoram Premier league) season was very important for players to come in shape and play a lot of matches, the only problem was that there are just  two foreign players allowed so it was really not easy to prepare the I league and play same time the MPL. But we develop as a team and individual this time so it was very important for us also to reach the final.

Moinak: How did you see your I league triumph and this championship developing Mizoram football?Is this the true inspiration for the young talents uprising from this region?

Masih: It is my first time here in mizoram and wherever I go I see people who are crazy for sport and especially football, I saw a lot of really talented players, strong player fast and technical brilliant, this area is blessed with a lot of talent. For this region is a league like the MPL is very important but not just the MPL for 3 month to really develop these players need competition and training at least 8 month a year like in Europe and other parts in the world. Like I said before physically the player are strong but they have to work on the tactically basic, this is very important if you want to play one day in a top club, if you go with 20 and top skills to Europe for example and don’t know the basics of tactical football , discipline and organization you will be lost.
These are the things where they still have to improve I think.

Moinak: Impressive. So what are the projects of Aizawl that made you select the club?

Masih: Honestly I didn’t knew anything before of Aizawl Fc , even Indian football I didn’t followed. I just heard sometimes if a big name like Anelka or Berbatov moved to India. But if my agent told me there is a offer of I league champion, Aizawl Fc I researched about the club watched some videos and made my decision very fast . First a club which won the championship in a big country like India must be good. And second aspect was the fans , I really felt the power they have for this club and that their stand east behind the team and club . It’s a footballers goal and dream to play every home match in front of at least 15000 of their own supporters.

Moinak: You made a very interesting point there. The fans became the 12th man throughout the fairy tale that Aizawl invested. By the way, fans will cheer a lot about the start you made in the I league drawing 2-2 with Kolkata giants East Bengal in a tough opener to defend the title in the new season. Isn’t it?

Masih: Oh yes the fans are really important, they can make in a 50/50 match the different between loose or win. I think they will be our strength and advantage in home matches. And yes the support we got from our fans in Kolkata in the stadium was fantastic, also before the match and after I received a lot of mails and best wishes because of this game, thanks again to all Aizawl FC supporters.

Moinak: So a vital point against one of major title contenders in the opening game. Do you see this as an extra bit of motivation? And is there any different working mentality to begin this season when he have to defend your trophy?

Masih: Of course it was a very important point especially the way we got this point showed the character of Aizawl FC , if you are 2:0 back against a Indian football power house in their own stadium you must have character and team spirit to make a comeback like this. It’s not a motivation it showed that we are still strong even if a lot of key players from last season left us.
But I think teams like East bengal and Mohun bagan have much more pressure than we have . We train hard and give our best to defend the title, if we can it is great but the other two teams must win the title and there is the main difference.

Moinak: I admit. So Masih now that MPL is over. What you all are making up for the I league now? Is it the hunt for the title or a top four place acquisition?

Masih: I can’t say so much about what will happen in the next four month. I just can say we are  defending champions and we will behave and play like this of course we will give in every single training and match our level best. If it is enough at the end to defend the title or make a top four place we will see then, but as a footballer you go outside the pitch and try to win every match.

Moinak: I see. After a week gap, I league actions returns for Aizawl. Churchill Brothers is your next fixture on 13th. They are heading into this clash with no points on the board from the start and recently they had been hammered by Mohun Bagan. Will they will be easier to battle against following their performance to start the team’s preceding?

Masih: No I don’t think any game will be easy they just had two games and after two games you can say nothing about a team, we will play our style against every team and if we don’t play 100% focus and concentrate and think we can beat them easily because they lost two games we will have no chances against them or any other team.

Moinak: Thank you Masih! Its been a pleasure to speak with you. For the conclusion what do you want to tell about the development of Indian football?

Masih: What I saw here in Aizawl, so much talent makes me really happy, I think India football will have a great future if they continue develop like this. I am proud and happy to play in a country with so many nice , kind and polite people which share the love for football with me. At the beginning it was a bit difficult to adjust but now I feel comfortable here and just love it.