Mizoram, one of the powerhouses of North East and Indian football have reached the semifinal of Santosh Trophy for the third time in the last five years. They are set to take on Kerala in the semis of the national tournament on Friday.
The state’s success story began with their triumph in the Santosh Trophy 2013/14 season. It was a beginning of beautiful success story of Mizoram football which reached new heights with Aizawl FC winning the I-League in 2016/17 season after making a return relegation.
Mizoram have since then become a force to reckon with several big Mizo names featuring in the top tier of Indian football with Lalruatthara being the latest entry on the list.
The North Eastern state has a done a fairly decent job so far. They have won three out of their four group games comprehensively and have caught several eyeballs.
Coach Lalsangzuala Hmar fields his side in an attacking 4-3-3 formation which occasionally shifts to 4-2-4. They play eye-soothing football and are definitely one of the favourites to win the title.
The coach has been the most important pillar of this Mizo side. Hmar has vast experience of coaching under his belt. He had guided the state to semis of Santosh Trophy last season and most recently won the Mizoram Premier League with Chanmari FC beating giants Aizawl.
Speaking exclusively to Goal about his team's preparation, the Mizo coach said, “Last season in Goa we lost in penalties in semis against Bengal. I have brought seven players from that side. We will try our best to win it. We arrived in Kolkata three days before the tournament and acclimatized with the conditions in Kolkata. Our first target was to reach the semis and we achieved that. Now we want to go to the final.”
Two of the best players in Mizoram Premier League, R Malsawmtluanga and Malsawmfela, could not make it to the Santosh Trophy this season. Malsawmtluanga had appeared for a police exam and got selected into the police force of Mizoram and thus couldn’t make it to Kolkata.
Hmar rued about not getting to avail the services of the star players. “In the qualifying round, Malsawmtluanga played and was really good. Also, Malsawmfela from my side (Chanmari FC) was the best striker. Even he is missing from our squad. I could not bring them, unfortunately.”
Mizoram has unfinished business left against Kerala as they suffered a 4-1 defeat against the South Indian state in the group stage last year. Thus, revenge will be on their mind when they take the field on Friday.
“Last year my first choice goalkeeper was injured and I had to field a U-21 goalkeeper against Kerala. He got nervous because of lack of experience as it was his first Santosh Trophy appearance. We believe we can win against Kerala tomorrow in the semi-final. We are coming to take revenge against Kerala.”
When asked to rate the other three semifinalists, Hmar individually picked the teams and pointed out their strengths very carefully.
“Kerala have good forwards who can run and cut inside into the box. They work very hard. If they continue to play like that then they have a good chance.
“Karnataka depend on their back four. Their defenders are very strong. They are physically strong, good in the air. They have good technique also.
“Bengal always have a good team and are favourites in Santosh Trophy. They are the defending champions and playing at home.”
U-21 midfielder Lalromawia has been a standout performer for Mizoram in the tournament this time. A player who is used to play in a defensive midfield role was used by Lalsangzuala in the number 10 role. The change in position helped the player blossom even more as he netted four goals in three matches he played so far.
Speaking about his star player and his future, the coach mentioned, “Last year in Mizoram Premier League, he played for Chanmari West FC. His actual role is number six. During the Mizoram League, I used to observe his game. When I got him in the Mizoram team, I used him as a number ten or a number eight. In the qualifier also he scored quite a few goals and in the group stage, he scored four. He is a young talent and has a very good future.”
Finally, the Mizoram coach stated how he inspires and motivates his young players to perform at this national stage.
“The most important thing for me is mental preparation. I always focus on the grassroots level and train them how to keep the ball, how to move the ball. But the most important thing is to mentally prepare these young boys. They have the ability and potential to perform, you just need to motivate them and prepare them.”