Friday, June 14, 2024
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Lajong start campaign against Pune FC

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I-League starts today with high-voltage matches

By Our Reporter

Pradyum Reddy: Sounds confident

 SHILLONG: Shillong Lajong FC start their campaign for India’s premier and longest soccer tourney — I League — against Pune FC in Pune on Saturday.

In the lung-opener, Kolkata giant East Bengal will take on Churchill Brothers.

HAL Bangalore will play Chirag United Kerela.

On the otherhand, Federation cup winners and reigning champions Salgaocar SC will take on Dempo on Saturday.

Though Lajong have an unbeaten record against Pune FC, coach Pradyum Reddy believes it would be a tough contest as Pune are among the top four teams in the country. However, recent injuries to star Pune goalkeeper Subroto Paul and top scorer Mandjou Keita could benefit Lajong’s cause in Saturday’s clash.

“Pune have a good fan base and academy set-up apart from the home advantage,” Reddy told The Shillong Times.

The Lajong coach said the boys were looking forward to start the I League season on a high note and gain some points away from home early on in the tournament.

“We have been playing good soccer for the past few months and the team is determined to keep the momentum going,” he said.

Referring to the controversy surrounding Seikhohao Tuboi, Reddy asserted the striker would be a part of the squad.

“Off-field issues would not affect our team composition for crucial matches,” Reddy added.

PTI adds from Kolkata: Meanwhile, fresh from their Super Cup triumph, East Bengal, one of the four teams based in Bengal, will look to begin the tournament with a win as they are aiming to lift the crown this time after finishing runners-up in the last edition.

The other three Bengal-based sides are Mohun Bagan, Prayag United SC and Pailan Indian Arrows.

A balanced East Bengal under coach Trevor James Morgan missed the title to Salgaocar last year but among the four Bengal-based teams, the red and gold brigade appear heavyweights to lay their hands on the crown that was last won by them eight years ago in the form of then National Football League.

Morgan’s boys will be desperate to add the trophy that has been missing in their cabinet, even as consistency and maintaining a momentum right through the marathon league will be the key to success.

The championship crown has been rooted to Goa so far after the NFL was re-christened I-League in 2007-08 with Dempo winning twice in the inaugural edition and in 2009-10.

The Big Two of Kolkata — East Bengal and Mohun Bagan — boast of some of the most sought after foreign and domestic names of Indian football, including that of leading scorer Odafa Onyeka Okolie who has been roped in by the green and maroon brigade.

Mohun Bagan, though, have struggled in the start of the season, parting ways with coach Steve Darby but on paper they have all the ingredients of a top side with Subrata Bhattacharya back at the helm of affairs to work along side Prasanta Banerjee.

East Bengal, on the other hand, have a balanced and set force with top midfielder Mehtab Hussain, foreign striker Tolgay Ozbey being their main players.

Prayag United SC, who made it to the Durand Cup final recently, have showed their hunger, while AIFF’s developmental side Pailan Indian Arrows, after shifting base to Kolkata, have all the elements to spoil the party of the bigwigs.

East Bengal will look to start their campaign on a positive note in front of their home crowd, while Durand Cup champions Churchill Brothers will be equally competitive.

Yet to recover from his groin injury, Hussain will not marshal the East Bengal midfield tomorrow while defender Raju Gaikwad will also sit out due to an injury.

Churchill Brothers have won the second edition.

Impressed with their goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh in the Super Cup which East Bengal won against Salgaocar via penalties, the team will give the youngster another opportunity tomorrow.

Tolgay Ozbey and their new Scottish signing Alan Gow will have to play in turns, while Orji Penn will be their playmaker.

Churchill too will miss their top Dempo recruit Roberto Mendes Silva who had to sit out in the Durand Cup final against Prayag United also.

The opening ceremony will see singer Nachiketa performing among other cultural programmes.

Dempo are also equally matched with Salgaocar in all the departments and are optimistic about their chances to earn points.

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