Margao: Champions Dempo Sports Club will start the defence of their I-League title with a tricky clash against arch rivals Churchill Brothers Sports Club at the Nehru Stadium in Fatorda on Saturday.
Dempo made it to the final of the Federation Cup before eventually losing to East Bengal in extra time, but it was clear that Churchill Brothers was the most impressive team in the competition. Technical director Subhash Bhowmick admits just as much and is now ready to make amends in the I-League, India’s premier football competition.
“We could have been Federation Cup champions. Everyone said we played the most beautiful and attractive football. That we lost to East Bengal (in the semis) was unfortunate but we have everything to play for in the I-League,” he said.
Bhowmick has rebuilt Churchill Brothers following the departure of several big names. It is, however, the addition of the Lebanese duo of Akram Moghrabi and Bilal Najjarin that could give the former champions an edge.
“I have four quality foreign players but only three can play. The choice will be tough between Akram and Henri (Antchouet) but it’s a healthy fight. It will do good for the team,” said Bhowmick.
Dempo Sports Club coach Armando Colaco is typically cool and calm ahead of the big opener. “The opening match result will mean nothing. There is a long way to go and, historically, Dempo have been late starters. I have no worries about anything,” said Colaco.
Dempo will use a new striking pair of former Arsenal striker Rohan Ricketts and Ryuji Sueoka with Nigerian striker Koko Sakibo and Joaquim Abranches -- both of whom started in the Federation Cup final -- pencilled for a role in the second session.
The match kicks off at 5.30pm.
Meanwhile, Shillong Lajong FC aim to begin their campaign on a high when they take on Kolkata’s Mohun Bagan at 2.45 PM.
The Kolkata giants, who couldn’t reach the semis of the recently-concluded Federation Cup stay under a bit of pressure to win the match at any cost. “The boys are complaining of cold,” Bagan coach Santosh Kashyap said, adding: “Away matches are always difficult but they stay the same for every team.”
Lajong’s campaign is likely to be boosted by a full crowd at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium but Kashyap was quick to deny the crowd factor will be a decisive factor.
“In Kolkata, we play in front of over a lakh spectators. So I don’t believe the crowd will ever have any impact on the result of the match,” Kashyap maintained. “Lajong are a good side and capable of causing an upset. We need to be cautious.”
Lajong’s English Coach Desmond Bulpin stays aware of the challenge but assured his boys are “ready for the challenge.”
“We will fight till the end. It will be a high-voltage game. We will surely bank on our home support,” he opined. “We have blended the team with the experienced players and some boys from the Academy who are totally fresh for I-League,” he added.
In the other match, Pailan Arrows, the developmental side of All India Football Federation, would be looking to extend its good form of the Federation Cup when it opens the I-League campaign against Mumbai FC at the Salt Lake Stadium on Saturday.
Arrows will miss their Australian coach Arthur Papas, who could not make it due to visa problem, but his assistant Aaron Simon hoped the team will continue with the momentum.