Chennai City v Minerva: Debutants lock horns

With both teams being unknown quantities to each other and the rest of the league, both coaches have contrasting opinions on the ambiguity.

Minerva players practice on the eve of the team's I-League debut.   -  Minerva

Newbies Chennai City FC and Minerva Punjab FC will make their I-League bows at the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium, here on Sunday. Present at the pre-match presser at the venue were representatives from both camps, with captain Manandeep Singh and coach Surinder Singh representing Minerva while counterparts Dharmaraj Ravanan and Robin Charles Raja taking stage for the home team.

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With both teams being unknown quantities to each other and the rest of the league, both coaches have contrasting opinions on the ambiguity.

“I think its an advantage for both teams as we don’t know what to expect from each other,” avers Surinder Singh.

Robin Charles Raja, who is making his I-League debut as coach, said: “At the end of the day it is going to be 11 v 11. Both teams are appearing for the first time and will have their own strategies. So, for us, it doesn’t put any added pressure on the occasion.”

Captain Dharmaraj Ravanan, however, is no stranger to the I-League. The 29-year-old centre back from Tiruchirappalli started his professional career in 2005 with Dempo S.C. and even captained Churchill Brothers to an I-League trophy in 2013. Karanjit Singh, the goalkeeper, is also another I-League veteran in the team.

Fan support

After much difficulty, the State of Tamil Nadu has finally got I-League action coming its way and the skipper can’t stress enough the importance of home support. “Of course it’s important. I hope we get good support tomorrow and going by the crowds for the ISL, I’m sure our fans will turn up in numbers.”

Punjab’s pride

“JCT Mills (disbanded after the 2010-11 season) was an inspiration for the young kids in Punjab. After 2010 there were no opportunities for the youngsters within the State. They all had to go outside and fight for their place. Now, with the advent of ISL, the doors are slowly opening.

“Now, we have a team from the State and last year Minerva FC played in the second division with players coming through the academy system. So more opportunities will only come,” said Minerva Punjab skipper Manandeep Singh.