I-League 2019-20: Aizawl FC, Mohun Bagan to kick off new season
Gokulam Kerala hosts NEROCA FC in Kozhikode in the second match of the opening day.
All set: Aizawl FC head coach Stanley Rosario (left) shakes hands with his Mohun Bagan counterpart, Jose Antonio Vicuna. Photo: AIFF Media
The 2019-20 season of the Hero I-League kicks off on November 30. A total of 110 matches will be played across 17 weeks, with 45 foreign nationals taking part.
The newly-promoted TRAU FC will be one of the 11 participating clubs this season. For the first time in the I-League, there will be a derby separate from the famous Kolkata derby when TRAU FC locks horns with fellow Imphal club NEROCA FC.
Speaking ahead of the opening match-day, Sunando Dhar, CEO, I-League, said: “What makes the Hero I-League special I believe is its competitiveness and unpredictability. You cannot earmark a team and be absolutely sure that they are going to win. That unpredictability is rare in football these days, which makes me proud of our league. It’s almost time and I could not be more excited.”
The I-League also has new production and broadcast partners this season. Instat will be responsible for the production while the Dsport television channel will broadcast the competition live.
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On Day One, Aizawl FC hosts Bagan in the afternoon at the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium in Aizawl. Bagan has roped in Spaniard Kibu Vicuna this season along with a fleet of Spaniards in a clear departure from established norms. The side under Vicuna has been together for about five months now and have played at least three competitive tournaments going into Saturday’s opener.
'100 percent ready'
Ahead of the contest, head coach Jose Antonio Vicuna said, “We are working together almost five months. We have prepared the team to be 100 percent ready to play first game. We respect Aizawl because we know they are a good team and it’s going to be a tough match but we want to start well the competition and come back to Kolkata with three points.”
Aizawl, the 2016-17 champion, has managed to retain the nucleus of the side which turned up for it least season and has also made some new signings. The likes of Liberian defensive wall Alfred Jaryan and his partner Richard Kasagga of Uganda are still around and so are midfielders like David, Isac, Lalremsanga, Rocharzela. Aizawl even has William Lalnunfella back from a brief flirtation with Bagan. Ayush Dev Chetri and Techi Tatra are two young forwards who would be looking to make a mark if played.
Bagan, meanwhile, has a familiar Debjit back in goal, while Kim Kima and Arijit Bagui are a couple of familiar names which are likely to be seen in their defence line again. However, Bagan also has new foreign faces at the back in Trinidadian Daniel Cyrus and Spaniard Francisco Munoz. Fran Morante and Joseba Beitia are another couple of Spanish footballers who will be seen leading the Bagan attacks this season.
Gokulam Kerala head coach Santiago Varela oversees a training session in Kozhikode. Photo: AIFF Media | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement
The likes of Sk. Faiz, Nongdamba Naorem and P. M. Britto will also add a lot of local attacking flair and pace down the wings.
Kerala challenge for NEROCA FC
In the evening, Gokulam Kerala takes on NEROCA FC at the EMS Corporation Stadium in Kozhikode. Gokulam has made several acquisitions over the summer. Fernando Santiago Varela has been the re-appointed as head coach. It has also roped in five players from its opponent this weekend, including the likes of Sebastian Thangmuansang, Naocha Singh and Malemngamba Meitei.
Ugandan forward Henry Kisekka has also returned to the club, following a spell with Mohun Bagan last season.
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Speaking ahead of the match, Varela said, “For us it is a matter of pride to be able to represent our fans. It is our obligation to put on a good show for them and for them to enjoy watching the team play.”
NEROCA, on the other hand, will be led by Gift Raikhan at the helm. It has made significant strides in the transfer market, having roped in veteran Trinidad and Tobago goalkeeper Marvin Devon Phillip and his compatriot, 22-year-old defender Taryk Sampson.
The team will, however, be missing some key players from last season like Katsumi Yusa, Singham Subash Singh and Malengbam Meetei among others, but by and large, it has the nucleus still intact. With new exciting foreign signings like Malian Boubacar Diara upfront, NEROCA can prove to be a handful for the host.
Speaking ahead of the match, Phillip said, “The preparation has been great over the last couple months under the guidance of coach Gift Raikhan. We have a youthful bunch and we are all eager to get underway on Saturday. It’s going to be a tough season but we all set for this challenge.”
Schedule (Saturday, November 30)
1. Aizawl FC v Mohun Bagan, Rajiv Gandhi Stadium, Aizawl – 2pm.
2. Gokulam FC v Neroca FC, EMC Corporation Stadium, Kozhikode – 7pm.