Mizoram, one of the traditional powerhouses in Indian football, have reached the semifinals of Santosh Trophy for the third time in the last five years where they are set to take on Kerala on Friday.
The state’s success story actually began with their triumph in the 2013/14 season of the Santosh Trophy and they followed it up with strong shows in the subsequent editions. Mizoram football reached new heights when Aizawl FC won the I-League in 2016/17 season.
Mizoram have since then become a force to reckon with. Several Mizo stars have featured in the top tier of Indian football with Lalruatthara being the latest entry on the list.
In this edition of the Santosh Trophy, 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 the eyeballs.
Coach Lalsangzuala Hmar fields 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 after beating giants Aizawl FC.
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 was selected into the police force of Mizoram and thus couldn’t make it to Kolkata.
Hmar rued the unavailability of his 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 against Kerala as they suffered a 4-1 defeat at the South Indian state's hands in the group stage last year. Revenge will be on their mind when they take to 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 and he netted four goals in the three matches he has 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.”