One of the newly promoted teams to the I-League — Shillong Lajong Football Club (SLFC) — has a lot to prove in the company of the best of Indian teams. Being the first from North East to make it big, SLFC will showcase the immense talent this corner of India has to offer in the days to come.

Having packed the 27-member squad with boys from the North East, out of which nine are from Meghalaya, SLFC will be based in Shillong with Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium as its home ground. Shillong, a pretty hill station, will be the proud host to many I-League games in the coming season.

Lajong FC, the biggest club in the Northeast, finished second among the six teams that took part in the final qualifying round of the I-League second division held at Gurgaon in April this year.

The General-Secretary of SLFC, Larsing M. Sawyan, says, “There is abundant football talent in this region. Our dream is to identify budding footballers and leave an indelible mark on the Indian and international football map.”

With Stanley Rozario as its chief coach, the club has one of the best young brains in the business to guide it. “The local boys are endowed with natural flair and good physique to stand up to the rigours of the game. What they need is experience which will come only by playing matches against better opponents,” he says.

For the SLFC boys and their coach, the IFA Shield tournament will be the first acid test on the long road to football glory. Clubbed in a group with relegated Mohammedan Sporting and defending I-League champion Churchill Brothers, the North Eastern boys will certainly start their fledgling career in a tough company.

Captain Aibor Khongjee, 22, epitomises the team’s spirit. Hailing from a small village about two hours’ drive from Shillong close to the Bangladesh border, Aibor emerged out of SAI (Shillong) before he was picked up by Lajong FC in 2004. He represented the Indian under-19 squad in 2006 and joined East Bengal the following year before returning home.

The team has some of the finest talent from the region. Mostly composed of Meghalaya, Mizoram and Manipur players, the team has three foreigners — Daniel Bidemi, James Gbillee and Micheal Bassey — the last two being strikers and will be hard to beat.

Rozario feels the boys are dedicated, hardworking and most importantly honest. This, he says, reflects in their work culture. “Marlanki Suiting, Samson Ramengmawia. Rohmingthanga, Kyrshan Lyngshing and Saikahao Tuboi, are some of the boys to be watched in the team,” says Larsing.

The club has more than 20 boys largely in the under-18 age group in the youth team playing in the Shillong league. “Football in Meghalaya is very popular despite the poor infrastructure. There is a big fan base. Many developmental initiatives are being chalked out,” he says.

“We have a merchandising agreement with adidas and our jerseys will be available across the region come September. We have also roped in McDowell No. 1 as our co-sponsors.”

The squad: Aibor Khongjee (captain), Marlanki Suiting, Romeo Sukhlein, Birendra Thapa, Roland Pyngrope, Kyrshan Lyngshing, Niwan-O-Gatphoh, Weilad Passah and Thrangki Laloo (all Meghalaya), Samson Ramengmawia, Lalthuamawia, Rohming Thanga, Zohmingliana, Recy K. Lalremmawia, Ronald Zothanzama, Lalruatfela and Laldingliana Khiangte (all Mizoram), Markus Basumatary (Assam), Gumpe Rime (Arunachal Pradesh), Seikhohao Tubai, Boithang Hoakip, Khwairakpam Rojit Singh, Thanggoulal Kipgen and Pravin Kumar (all Manipur), James Gbillee, Micheal Bassey and Daniel Bidemi.

Chief Coach: Stanley Rozario; Asst. Coach: Thangboi Singto.

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