I-League: Injury-hit Bengaluru FC embark on title defence against Shillong Lajong

An injury-depleted Bengaluru FC kick off their I-League title defence when they host Shillong Lajong FC at the Kanteerava Stadium on Saturday.

Injuries to a host of their players have dented Bengaluru's preparations for the season-opener as the defending champions will be without Rino Anto, Lalthuammawia Ralte, Keegan Pereira, Salam Ranjan Singh and Lalchhuanmawia in Saturday's match.

Despite these injury setbacks, Bengaluru would look to begin their campaign against Shillong Lajong with a win. They had an astounding 2016 as they won the I-League title and then created history by reaching the AFC Cup final.

Bengaluru FC players celebrating their I-League title. PTI

Bengaluru FC players celebrating their I-League title. PTI

"It's a shame that injuries will keep these key players out but we cannot dwell on this. Some of them are out for longer periods than the others and that's where depth in squad will come into play. We have a versatile set of players and that helps," coach Albert Roca told reporters on the eve of the match.

Roca is not taking the opponents lightly, even though Bengaluru have been victors in their backyard thrice before.

"We are going to be up against a very competitive team from what I have seen and it's important that we are giving 100 percent in every department on the pitch if we want to start our campaign on the right note," he said.

Asked if Bengaluru's stunning run in the AFC Cup and the fact that they are reigning champions in the League puts pressure on his side, Roca said that on the flipside, it has boosted the morale of the team and that they would look to carry that mentality in the League.

"There's absolutely no pressure on us. If anything the success in the AFC Cup has boosted our morale and we will look to carry that mentality in the League. We will surely need to perform at our best from the first game to the last but we won't be doing it under any pressure," he said.

Asked whether the five new signees have adapted to the Bengaluru style of football and discipline, Roca said that they have done well to do so in a very short time and would only get better.

"These players will make things easier for the team as they have played for and against experienced teams, Roca said. "These are players who have played for and against experienced teams so, that makes things easier for us," he said.

The Blues have shopped extensively, signing as many as five players on loan, including Harmanjot Khabra, Lenny Rodrigues, Mandar Rao Desai and Arindam Bhattacharya, in a bid to add depth to the squad and bolster every position across the pitch.

Lajong, meanwhile, have rung in changes of their own with the signings of three new foreign players.

Joining striker Fabio Pena in attack is Cameroonian striker Aser Pierrick Dipanda, who turned out for DSK Shivajians last season. Midfielder Yuta Kinowaki and defender Dan Ignat are the other additions.

Lajong head coach Thangboi Singto, who has been with the team from the very beginning, appeared positive for Saturday's match.

"It's good to start with the best team, might be difficult for us, but helps you to know where you stand. We will come as the best we can," he said.

Thangboi promised a good game and said he was hopeful of taking points away from the home team.

"This year we have strengthened in the scoring department, hopefully, the players on board will do the needful. But it is not going to be easy if you look at the teams, every team has toughened including the new entrants who will try to make a mark in the league.

"At the end of the day, goals win matches, and we need to better that. Hopefully, we'll start doing that from our first match," Thangboi said.

Other than their foreigners Dan Ignat, Yuta Kinowaki, Aser Pierrick Dipanda, Fabio Pena and goalkeeper Vishal Kahit, Lajong comprise of players from North-East with many U-22 players from their football academy. The policy of Lajong from the beginning has been to promote talents from the North East region.

Published Date: Jan 07, 2017 13:13 PM | Updated Date: Jan 07, 2017 14:33 PM

Also See