Shillong, Nov 2: Football has the honour of kicking off the action at the 2nd North East Olympic Games 2022, with states from the region battling it out in men’s and women’s events in the most popular sport in the North East.
Although NEOG 2022 will formally open on 10 November, in consideration of the players and their need to have rest days in between matches, the football will begin on 7 November, competition manager Philarima Hynniewta informed.
Some big changes are taking place at the venue - the MFA Turf at Third Ground, Polo - with sturdy, temporary stands being put up. The six floodlights at the SSA Stadium at First Ground are also being transferred to the MFA Turf, which should allow more game time even as the approach of winter makes the daylight hours shorter. For the players’ benefit, the changing rooms have also been extensively renovated, all thanks to support from the state government, which wants to make the Games the best they can be for the state’s and visiting athletes.
At NEOG 2022, the football will consist of U-21 men and U-17 women events.
In the men’s competition, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura and Assam are in Group 1 and Meghalaya, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim in Group 2.
Hosts Meghalaya are also in Group 2 of the girls’ division, along with Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim. Group 1 comprises Manipur, Assam, Tripura and Nagaland.
Meghalaya men’s team coach Khlain Pyrkhat Syiemlieh expects strong competition from all states, especially football stalwarts Mizoram and Manipur.
"Nagaland, too, cannot be underestimated because it was their U-17 boys' team that won the Subroto Cup (in October) and some of these players might be in their U-21 squad as well," Syiemlieh said.
The Meghalaya teams have both been training exceptionally hard at the MFA Turf and, thanks to the provision of bleachers, they are hoping to be well-supported by fans cheering them on and do better than they did at the first NEOG in Manipur in 2018. Four years ago Meghalaya won bronze in the men's division and narrowly missed out on a medal in the women's by coming fourth.
"Meghalaya have a really strong chance this time but there have been a couple of injuries, so we will have to wait on these. Hopefully they will recover in time," the coach added.