Shillong Lajong and Kerala Blasters will square off in the final of the 2017/18 U-18 Youth League at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium to bring down the curtain on what has been a fabulous two weeks of football in Shillong.
Saturday’s showpiece event is the maiden U-18 Youth League final for both teams, and a favourite is hard to pick as Lajong are the only team who maintained a 100% record on their way to the final but their opponent Kerala are also unbeaten thus far, having built on a slow start to the tournament.
The two teams have faced a series of obstacles on the road to the final but with their 2-0 victory over a strong East Bengal side in semifinal, Lajong look set to enter the final in higher spirits. Whereas Kerala head into the final on the back of a closely fought 2-1 victory against SAI Kolkata in a game which saw them fail to reach their full potential.
Nonetheless, despite Lajong’s commanding performance against East Bengal the final seem evenly poised as Kerala proved equally threatening on the counter and relatively solid at the back.
With the likes of Adarsh AS, Badusha TT and Abdullah KS in the ranks, the Southern outfit will always pose a goal threat but the same can be said of Lajong, for whom Donboklang Lyngdoh and Phrangki Buam have been in exceptional form.
Lajong coach Bobby Nongbet has prepared his troops well, identifying the key strengths of his personnel and setting up a system to maximize the team’s effectiveness. He never got carried away with any one victory, pointing out areas for improvements whilst highlighting the strengths of his team.
Going into the final, Lajong’s strategy would be simple as they will be looking frustrate Kerala by keeping things compact and cutting off space before using speed on the transition in the form of Donboklang, Phrangki and Parvaj Bhuiya who all have the capacity to stretch Kerala’s defense.
From a Kerala Blasters perspective, reaching the final is somewhat of a surprise given the team is making their first ever U-18 Youth League appearance. For that achievement, immense credit must go to coach Renjith Thittayil Ajithkumar as his understated yet demanding approach appears to have coaxed the best out of his squad.
For Kerala it’s all about creativity and a sense of energy in the front-line, especially when you consider that a draw will go straight to penalties.
These solutions were nowhere to be found in their 2-1 semifinal win over SAI. Despite the fact that Kerala had a number of well structured and proactive chances in the attack, the team proved to be far too cautious and passive. Thus Ajithkumar’s charges must hit the ground running with a high-pressing, risk-taking and threatening style if they are to win the title.
The pressure will be very much on Lajong to clinch the title in their backyard. Kerala, on the other hand, have exceeded many people’s expectations by reaching this stage and they have a side that is more than capable of pressing for the title, and with so much riding on the outcome, tomorrow’s meeting is sure to be an absorbing affair which will kick-off at 4:30 pm.