Players of Arunachal Pradesh (left) and Nagaland (right), ahead of the first match played between the two teams at Indira Gandhi Stadium, Kohima on Monday

Kohima: As the much-awaited North East Dr T Ao Trophy kicked off on Monday at Indira Gandhi Stadium in Kohima, the state’s only astro turf football pitch, hundreds of football lovers witnessed the first match that was played between Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh. Although Arunachal Pradesh lost to the host team against a score of 1-4, the effort made by both the teams was lauded by everyone.

Ahead of the match, Nagaland team captain Khwetelhi Thopi told EastMojo that despite the limited time, the team had been working hard for the past 10 days. “Everyone is focused. We are very happy and excited that we are hosting this tournament in the state and also celebrating 100 years of Dr T Ao. It is a privilege to represent our state,” he said.

When asked about the competition with the other states, the skipper optimistically said: “They are all good teams but I believe this time for our state, we have a strong team and we are ready to compete with others. We will give a tight fight and hopefully, we will be champion this time.”

A national level football player himself, Thopi, said that to promote football in the state there is need for more infrastructure and development. He also recommended the joint efforts of the government, the Nagaland Football Association (NFA) and the players to elevate the sport. “For the players, there is need to be even more focused and also requires more training so that we can compete at the top level,” he added.

Arunachal Pradesh team official Avinash Kharel, despite the loss against Nagaland, positively said: “There has been some lacuna in our team but we will analyze and we will be preparing ourselves for the best. Next match will be tougher and so we will need to get through all those matches to qualify for the semi-final. We will be looking forward to it.”

Kharel, who is also an assistant professor at a sports university, said: “In terms of football, right now, Arunachal [Pradesh] is developing and growing.” He added that the team will come back stronger. “It takes time to become a good nation and a good state. Likewise, in football, it may take some time, and we are also working on it. In future we will do our best,” he added.

He also lauded the state of Nagaland for organising the tournament in a well-structured and organised manner, adding that it is home to the football legend Dr T Ao.

In regard to the preparations made by the state, Kharel said “Dr T Ao Trophy is in our main competition [list], so we have [been] working for several weeks as soon as we got notice from this federation. The result also depends a lot but we won’t give up and we are fully prepared for the next match.”

Meanwhile, the goal-scorers for Nagaland were Rhitso Mero, Tove Hokato Zhimomi, Sinenlo Kath and Ratobe Poireng. Charu Lalum from Arunachal Pradesh scored the lone goal for the team.

Later in the evening, in the second match played between Manipur and Tripura, Manipur won the match 11-0. The third and fourth match, scheduled on Tuesday, will be played between Sikkim and Assam and Mizoram and Meghalaya, respectively. Arunachal Pradesh will next play against Manipur and Nagaland will play against Tripura, both of which will be played on Wednesday.

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