Aizawl hosts Neroca in northeast derby

I-League defending champion Aizawl FC hosts NEROCA FC in a crucial North Eastern derby on Saturday.

Aizawl players train ahead of Saturday's encounter against NEROCA.   -  Special Arrangement

After playing a tiring goalless draw in its previous I-League match against East Bengal, reigning champion Aizawl FC will hope to get back to winning ways when it hosts NEROCA FC for the second Northeast Derby of the season at the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium in Aizawl on Saturday.

Debutant NEROCA has coped well in its maiden season as it has lost only one match in nine matches and going into the derby, it will be brimming with confidence it derived from its 2-0 win over Indian Arrows.

However, NEROCA coach Gift Raikhan is well aware of the threats possessed by the home side. "First of all it's not a derby for me but more of a homecoming as I have nurtured many Mizo boys earlier in my career and did my B-License here in Aizawl."

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"Every match is difficult and I cannot predict the result. All I can guarantee is we will give our absolute best. Aizawl is a very good team and it will be a tough match," he said.

"It's been a hectic schedule for us and we cannot properly train in the away matches due to a lack of facilities. Some fans are coming from Imphal and I hope it will be an exciting match," added Raikhan, the youngest coach in the league.

NEROCA midfielder David Biakzara said he was excited to face a Mizo club. "Aizawl will be tough opponents and it won't be an easy match. Being a Mizo boy I am very excited to face Aizawl and my friends and family will be here to support me."

Aizawl can't afford to lose any more points at home as it has continuous away fixtures post this tie. The Mizoram-based side will be deprived of the services of Afghan defender Masih Saighani but head coach Paulo Menezes said that won't deter him from going for the win.

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Portuguese coach Menezes stated, "We always fight for three points in every match and we will do the same tomorrow. We respect the opponents and we will need to play tough. The most important thing is to win three points,"

Nigerian defender Kareem Omolaja Nurain has started every I-League match this season for the Reds and his role will be crucial in their quest to halt NEROCA's unbeaten run in the absence of Saighani. 

Kareem, who played for Minerva Punjab FC last season, stated that the fans are a crucial factor in the way the team plays its football. "I am very happy to play for Aizawl.  We are happy to see the fans supporting us and it is easier to perform well with the backing of the fans. Football is a team sport and the fans make it easier to play," he said.

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