Shillong, Jan 11 (ANI): The game of soccer is a passion for the young in northeastern states. Even school going kids dream of stepping into the shoes of ace player Baichung Bhutia, James and this was evident in the Hero Honda Federation Cup, that saw country's best football clubs battle out to win.
Thousands thronged the Nehru Stadium at Guwahati to witness the 31st Federation Cup sponsored by the Hero Honda. The tournament ended with Kolkata's East Bengal team taking away the trophy defeating Lajong Football Club of Shillong.
It was for the first time that a team from the North East had featured in the finals of the Federation Cup, the hallmark of club level football in India. Two hours of invasive aggression and watertight defence led to a highly charged game, without any goal being conceded.
Finally, the match was decided through the penalty shootouts with 3-0 in favour of East Bengal. The cheers and shouts of the jam packed stadium backing their heroes from the North East, literally electrified the atmosphere.
Speaking to ANI, Baichung Bhutia said:"I am very happy to win the tournament. It was a difficult game; Lajong defended really well. But I think we played well throughout the tournament. We had few chances, but Lajng defended well. But I think a win is a win."
"I would have been happier, if we would have concluded the match in 90 minutes; but football happens like this only, and in the end we won, and that counts," he added.
Supporters of Lajong Football Club came down all the way from the Scotland of the East, Shillong at an altitude of 4500 feet to see their truly deserving bunch of heroes. Despite their favoured team coming second, of fans were a contented lot. Amidst all this, the memories of the dream run of the team will always remain in the minds of the soccer-loving Shillongiites.
Lajong fighters created history after entering the finals at the expense of many strong teams such as the Dempos and Churchill Brothers of Goa and Mohun Bagan of Kolkata.
Being the only professional club from the North East, Lajong XI has now become an inspiration for footballers in the region to reiterate that nothing is impossible to face and overcome all sorts of challenges, both on and off the field. Indeed, all those who had converged to witness the final paid rich tributes to the fighting and sporting spirit of lively footballers from Shillong.
Speaking to ANI, the Lajong Football Club Manager Larsing Ming said:It is unbelievable! I mean there are no words to describe it. We would not have thought in our wildest dreams and imagination, that we will beat such mighty clubs of India. Today we created history."
Football is the game for the people of North East as were evident from the hordes of young school kids who met the players of Lajong during the practice sessions. Autograph hunters and handshake enthusiasts had a field day to meet their soccer idols.
School boys and young players were happy to see ace players and a lot of new techniques.
The achievements of Lajong Football Club deserve a special mention in the history of Indian football to reiterate that soccer is the most popular game in the Seven Sisters of the North East. By Peter Alex Todd (ANI)