I-League: Shillong Lajong hosts Aizawl FC in season’s first Northeast Derby

Shillong Lajong goes into the game with a better head to head record, having won three matches to Aizawl FC's one in the six I-League encounters the two sides have had so far.

Aizawl FC players engage in a training session ahead of their I-League clash against Shillong Lajong.   -  AIFF MEDIA

Shillong Lajong will begin its 2018 I-League campaign when it hosts former champion Aizawl FC at the JLN Stadium here on Sunday.

Billed as the season’s first North East Derby, the host goes into the game with a better head to head record, having won three matches to Aizawl’s one in the six encounters the two sides have had so far.

Shillong goes into its 12th I-League campaign as the only team other than the Indian Arrows to field a team comprising only Indian players and no foreigners.

The home team has Alison Kharsyntiew in the saddle since last year and is certainly an advantage as he has been with its academy setup for long and it will be the boys he has trained over the years who will be the cornerstones of the Shillong campaign this year. Shillong will be led on the field by 20-year old midfielder Samuel Lalmuanpuia, who will feature in his third I-League season with the club.

Kenstar Kharsong and Rakesh Pradhan will lead the Shillong defence, both bringing in the experience of having been a part of  the side's I-League campaign last year. In midfield, captain Lalmuanpuia will look to Samuel Lyngdoh and F. Lalrohlua for support, while academy products Parvaj Bhuiya and Donboklang Lyngdoh will shoulder the attacking responsibilities.Neithovilie Chalieu will hold fort in the Shillong goal.

Sharing his thoughts on the eve of the match, coach Alison said: “(The) first game is always important. The Northeast derby has always been special. We have been training hard for this game and the players are ready to perform. It’s a good decision by the club to go with Indian players only and it is a great opportunity for the youngsters. This season is a big test and a big challenge for us. We will be playing attacking football and the goal is to finish in the top six.”

Captain Lalmuanpuia said, “My personal goal for this season is to take my team as high as possible and also to score and assist as much as I can. There is no pressure on me or my teammates. Not having foreign players is not a disadvantage as we are young, full of energy and we are united. We will take it one game at a time and give our best in every match.”

Former champion Aizawl has managed to rope in last season’s best performing coach Gift Raikhan from NEROCA. Raikhan will bank on Zikahi Dodoz and Ansumanah Kromah to spearhead the side's goalscoring duties.

David Lalrinmuana will lead the midfield and will be assisted by the Alfred Jaryan in a holding role and Kyrgyztan’s Bektur Talgat. Nigerian wing back Kareem Nurain has a knack of scoring goals, which should hold Aizawl in good stead while goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh should provide them added comfort.

Coach Raikhan was his usual upbeat self on match day eve. “The team is (in) really good shape now. With the state league still going, we have to work hard because being the best in both the state and the country is what we aim and want. The foreigners have blended pretty well, they are all in good form and (have) also coped up with the local players very well. I am hoping for the best,” he said.

Team captain Alfred Jaryan also oozed confidence: “My expectations from the squad is higher this season. We have some experienced players in our ranks the team will do better. We need to keep the team spirit high and fight each match we play.”

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