Depleted Bengaluru embarks on title defence

Injuries to a host of its players have dented Bengaluru’s preparations for the season-opener against Shillong Lajong in the I-League and the defending champions will be without Rino Anto, Lalthuammawia Ralte, Keegan Pereira, Salam Ranjan Singh and Lalchhuanmawia in tomorrow’s match.

Despite these injury setback, BFC would look to begin its campaign against Shillong Lajong with a win.   -  V. Sreenivasa Murthy

An injury-depleted Bengaluru F.C. kick off its I-League title defence when it hosts Shillong Lajong F.C. at the Kanteerava Stadium here tomorrow.

Injuries to a host of its players have dented BFC’s preparations for the season-opener and the defending champions will be without Rino Anto, Lalthuammawia Ralte, Keegan Pereira, Salam Ranjan Singh and Lalchhuanmawia in tomorrow’s match.

Despite these injury setback, BFC would look to begin its campaign against Shillong Lajong with a win. It had an astounding 2016 as it won the I-League title and then created history by reaching the AFC Cup final.

“It’s a shame that injuries will keep these key players out but we cannot dwell on this. Some of them are out for longer periods than the others and that’s where depth in squad will come into play. We have a versatile set of players and that helps,” coach Albert Roca told reporters on the eve of the match here.

Roca is not taking the opponents lightly, even though BFC has been victors in its backyard thrice before. “We are going to be up against a very competitive team from what I have seen and it’s important that we are giving 100 per cent in every department in the pitch if we want to start our campaign on the right note,” he said.

Asked if BFC’s stunning run in the AFC Cup and the fact that it is reigning champion in the League puts pressure on his side, Roca said on the flipside, it has boosted the morale of the team and would look to carry that mentality in the League.

“There’s absolutely no pressure on us. If anything the success in the AFC Cup has boosted our morale and we will look to carry that mentality in the League. We will surely need to perform at our best from the first game to the last but we won’t be doing it under any pressure,” he said.

Asked whether the five new signees have adapted to BFC style of football and discipline, Roca said they have done well to do so in a very short time and would only get better.

“These players will make things easier for the team as they have played for and against experienced teams. These are players who have played for and against experienced teams so, that makes things easier for us,” Roca said.

The Blues has shopped extensively, signing as many as five players on loan, including Harmanjot Khabra, Lenny Rodrigues, Mandar Rao Desai and Arindam Bhattacharya, in a bid to add depth to the squad and bolster every position across the pitch.

Lajong, meanwhile, has rung in changes of its own with the signings of three new foreign players. Joining striker Fabio Pena in attack is Cameroonian striker Aser Pierrick Dipanda, who turned out for DSK Shivajians last season. Midfielder Yuta Kinowaki and defender Dan Ignat are the other additions.

Lajong head coach Thangboi Singto, who has been with the team from the very beginning, appeared positive for tomorrow’s match. “It’s good to start with the best team, might be difficult for us, but helps you to know where you stand. We will come as the best we can,” he said.

Thangboi promised a good game and said he was hopeful of taking points away from the home team.

“This year we have strengthened in the scoring department, hopefully, the players on board will do the needful. But it is not going to be easy if you look at the teams, every team has toughened including the new entrants who will try to make a mark in the league.

“At the end of the day, goals win matches, and we need to better that. Hopefully, we’ll start doing that from our first match,” Thangboi said.

Other than its foreigners Dan Ignat, Yuta Kinowaki, Aser Pierrick Dipanda, Fabio Pena and goalkeeper Vishal Kahit, Lajong comprise of players from North-East with many U-22 players from its football academy.

The policy of Lajong from the beginning is to promote talents from the North East region.