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ISL 2016: NorthEast United-Kerala Blasters clash to kick start new season after glitzy opening ceremony

Guwahati: A carnival atmosphere will fill the air when the opening ceremony of India Super League 3 celebrates the cultural diversity and spirit of the eight sisters before familiar foes NorthEast United FC and Kerala Blasters resume their rivalry on the pitch in Guwahati on Saturday.

For long the hub for producing and nurturing talent who ply their trade in the ISL, the I-League and the Indian national sides, the region has been rewarded with the opening ceremony by the tournament organisers.

Indira Gandhi Athletics Stadium in Guwahati is all set for the first kick-off in the ISL. Twitter@NaothEastUnited

Indira Gandhi Athletics Stadium in Guwahati is all set for the first kick-off in the ISL. Twitter@NaothEastUnited

It would not be an overstatement to say that the ISL's attempt at being recognised as the premier football tournament of India has been a success. This is largely due to the several high-profile signings over the past two years, and the emergence of new talent.

Former Atletico Madrid and Manchester United star Diego Forlan, Brazilian World Cup-winner Lucio, ex-Chelsea midfielder Florent Malouda and former Liverpool and AS Roma star John Arne Riise are some of the big names leading various franchises in this edition of the tournament.

Besides the cultural part, act 1 at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium will feature a bevy of Bollywood stars gyrating to hindi chartbusters.

Bollywood heartthrobs Alia Bhatt, Jacqueline Fernandes and Varun Dhawan, along with about 500 performers are ready to rock the stadium in the short, yet spectacular, 30-minute show.

NorthEast United owner John Abraham today accompanied ISL Founder and Chairperson Nita Ambani to the state capital ahead of the much-awaited opening ceremony.

Mumbai City FC co-owner Ranbir Kapoor, Kerala Blasters FC co-owner Sachin Tendulkar and Chennaiyin FC co-owner Mahendra Singh Dhoni will be reaching on Saturday.

The local flavour will be added by the famed Shillong Chamber Choir who have enthralled audiences across the globe.

Rio Olympics silver medallist PV Sindhu will be another star attraction at the gala event.

As far as football is concerned, both Northeast United and Kerala Blasters missed out on qualification to the semi-finals of the league last year and will be eager to go that extra mile this year.

While the northeasters narrowly missed the bus by coming fifth, Kerala Blasters, runner-up of the inaugural edition in 2014, finished with the wooden spoon in the eight-team franchise-based league.

NEUFC boss John does not believe in superstitions but he knows that teams hosting the opening ceremony triumphed in the first two editions.

"I am not a superstitious man, but when it is a happy co-incidence like this one is, we all hope that our dreams... the dreams of all the fans of the northeast can come true this year," said John.

Northeast United finished at the bottom of the pool during the inaugural edition and John admitted they made mistakes. Last season, the team missed out on a semifinal berth by a whisker.

"This year, we hope to go one step further and at least make the semis. We will see where we go from there," he said.

Had it not been for Edel Bete's fingertips, Kerala Blasters would have celebrated a famous triumph in the inaugural edition. The Blasters fought their way to the final against Atletico de Kolkata, came agonisingly close but eventually lost to a last-minute goal against their Kolkata rivals.

The next season there was another disappointment and the pain was more acute. All through the second edition, Kerala Blasters struggled to find their feet and, despite a change in coaching personnel, could only finish at the bottom of the league.

For a state that takes great pride in its support for football, Kerala Blasters deserved much more than a bottom-place finish.

The franchise now has new co-owners and a new coach but some things, like the English coaches since the start of the ISL, has remained unchanged. The team will hope that its fourtunes change for the better this time around.

After reportedly failing to clinch a deal with 2010 World Cup golden ball winner Diego Forlan, the team retained Postiga and it would be a payback time for the ATK marquee player.

In Postiga's absence, the Scottish-born Canadian Hume stepped up brilliantly to become second highest scorer last season with 11 goals as they duo can form a potent striking force.

Chennaiyin FC, on the other hand, is a model of consistency as head coach Marco Materazzi will be returning for a third consecutive season.

Materazzi's charismatic personality and shrewd tactics have turned Chennaiyin into a cohesive well-oiled machine as they have never failed to make the last-four.

They had their pre-season training in Italy where they won three consecutive matches.

Marquee signing John Arne Riise will add to an already tight defensive unit that ended last season as the league's meanest defence.

He along with Bernard Mendy at centre-back will surely pose a towering presence for ATK but it remains to be seen how they fare without their two golden boot winners Elano Blumer (2014) and Steven Mendoza (2015).

But they have new additions like Succi, Maurizio Peluso and Dudu Omagbemi, who netted a hat-trick for FC Goa last season, while top Indian forward Jeje Lalpekhula will add value to the side.

Updated Date: Oct 01, 2016 15:18 PM

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