Shillong, Jun 13: An absolutely incredible day in the Meghalaya State League 2023 saw not just one but two amazing comeback performances that sent Khliehmawlieh Youth Club and Rangdajied United FC to the final of the mega competition.
In Shillong, Khliehmawlieh overturned a 1-0 first leg deficit to win the second 3-1 (3-2 on aggregate) against Mawlai SC at the SSA Stadium. Rangdajied were faced with an even more massive mountain to climb as they were trailing 3-0 after the first leg against defending champions Shillong Lajong FC and they won 3-0 at the MDSA Ground in Mawkyrwat. With the aggregate score tied at 3-3, penalties were called for and Rangdajied won that 4-3.
These games were arguably the best that the MSL has produced across the three editions and Khliehmawlieh and Rangdajied will now get a few days rest before meeting in what promises to be an equally absorbing final, again at the SSA Stadium here, on Saturday.
Mawlai started the better side and looked like they would go on to dominate the match entirely. After a couple of early chances, which saw them denied twice by the crossbar and once by a defender, Mawlai went ahead through Donlad Diengdoh (33′), who beat goalkeeper Handbill Savio Syiemlieh to a cross from Nikelson Bina and headed it in.
That gave Mawlai an aggregate lead of 2-0 and the Shillong club looked comfortably in charge. Although there were a few promising long balls by Khliehmawlieh, the touches were a little too heavy and Mawlai custodian Neithovilie Chalieu was a little too good to beat.
That all changed towards the end of the first half when Mawlai suffered either an attack of nerves or hubris. Mistakes began to creep into their defence and, off the third of a string of corners, Mawlai failed to deal with the ball properly, leading Mainingstar Marngar (45’+1) to pump it in.
The equaliser on the cusp of half time was exactly what the match needed and the second 45 minutes was full of intensity, with Khliehmawlieh revelling in the fantastic support that they got from plenty of fans at the ground.
Although Bina hit the bar again for Mawlai, the last half an hour totally belonged to the club from West Khasi Hills. Khliehmawlieh’s second goal was a little fortunate, with Livingstone Nongrang storming up the right flank. He sent in a cross that was a bit deep and, completely unexpectedly, it sailed into the net at the far side.
That levelled the semifinal at 2-2 on aggregate and the visiting team were brilliant in controlling the midfield but their fightback appeared to suffer a huge blow after a foul in the box led to a penalty kick being awarded to Mawlai. Khliehmawlieh’s bench was furious with the decision, however, and the referee red-carded the coach. That extended break in play may have weighed on Mawlai captain Brolington Warlarpih, as he sent the spot kick well over the bar.
With time running out, Mawlai were playing high and did not spot another run by Nongrang up the right. With support to his left, Khliehmawlieh outnumbered Mawlai and Nongrang cleverly drew out Chalieu before crossing for Kyntiew Myrthong (90′) to tap the ball into an empty net, making the fairytale comeback a reality.
Over in Mawkyrwat, Rangdajied’s win was remarkable given the wave that Lajong have been riding since recently securing promotion to the I-league. In the end, the three goals during regulation time were all scored by ex-SLFC players – Tremiki Lamurong (32′, 73′) and substitute Batskhem Thangkhiew (56′).
The match was thus taken to penalties and, although the players are almost completely different, fans of the MSL will remember that Lajong defeated Rangdajied in the MSL 2019 final on penalties to lift the trophy. That was not to be the case today, however, as Rangdajied held their nerve to take it 4-3.
With the final set to be between Khliehmawlieh and Rangdajied, MSL 2023 is guaranteed new champions once again, thereby living up to its intended purpose of discovering new talent, promoting teams from across the state and delivering top-class football for the fans.