I-League: Defending champion Bengaluru faces Chennai

Not since the early 2000s has there been a top-level match between clubs based in the states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. On Saturday, at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium here, the long wait will finally end as Bengaluru FC (BFC) will take on the fledgling Chennai City FC (CFC).

Bengaluru FC's players practice at the Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru on Friday.   -  V. Sreenivasa Murthy

Not since the early 2000s has there been a top-level match between clubs based in the states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. The last was in 2002-03, in the erstwhile National Football League, when Indian Bank took on the Bengaluru-based sides Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) and Indian Telephone Industries (ITI).

On Saturday, at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium here, the long wait will finally end as champion Bengaluru FC (BFC) will take on the fledgling Chennai City FC (CFC).

“First of all we are happy to have a team in Chennai,” said CFC coach Robin Charles Raja. “For the past 12 years we haven't had a team. We have Chennaiyin FC but on a different platform. We have thus far seen Tamil Nadu players only play in the Santosh Trophy. Now we have got together. We don’t want to look back. We want to focus on the future.”

Task cut out

Its task against BFC will be cut out. The goalless draw against another newbie Minerva Punjab FC in its first fixture ensured a positive start. But the late entrant that Chennai was into the I-League set up, it has had to contend with last-minute player arrivals, problems with training facilities back home and a non-existent pre-season.

BFC, on the other hand, is a well-oiled machine and it put on an impressive display on the opening weekend beating Shillong Lajong 3-0. It has also routinely augmented its resources, adding an impressive array of Indian talent, the latest being defender Sandesh Jhingan.

“We need to build on that [result],” said coach Albert Roca. “It’s only our second game but we have to face it as we did in the first game. Our intention is to keep up the team spirit we have shown our supporters in our first game.”

“But it’s not going to be easy as they have got a few experienced players,” added Roca. “Most of them have already played in the I-league (D. Ravanan, Denson Devadas, Dhanapal Ganesh, Karanjit Singh etc.). They are also building a team and coming here with hope to score and put us in trouble.”

Even as Roca clarified that he wouldn’t want to chop and change, the prospect of playing three matches in nine days might lead to some slight tweaking. But Jhingan and the newly-signed Honduran striker Roby Norales are unlikely to see any match time on Saturday, with the manager wanting to ease them in.

“We don’t want to make many changes as we are trying to consolidate our position,” said Roca. “But all the other players in the squad have to be ready. If things don’t go well I would like to introduce the other players.”

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