I-League: Mohun Bagan takes on Minerva Punjab FC in opener

With the tournament heavyweight Bengaluru FC deciding to switch over to the glamorous ISL and many other clubs disbanding their teams, the I-League has become the preserve of a handful of traditional names like Mohun Bagan and East Bengal.

Mohun Bagan is well prepared for the tournament with Haitian World Cupper Sony Norde leading the roster of foreigners.   -  VIVEK BENDRE

Last year’s runner-up Mohun Bagan will be eager to pick up some early points as it takes on Minerva Punjab FC in the opening match of the Hero I-League, which gets underway at the Guru Nanak Dev Stadium (Ludhiana) on Saturday. With the tournament heavyweight and previous champion Bengaluru FC deciding to switch over to the glamorous ISL and many other clubs disbanding their teams, the I-League has become the preserve of a handful of traditional names like Mohun Bagan, East Bengal, Shillong Lajong FC and the reigning champion Aizawl FC. There are a few new outfits like Gokulam Kerala, NEROCA FC (Manipur) and the revived Indian Arrows filling up the 10-team roster.

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Minerva Punjab, which is chiefly an academy training youngsters, is also a new name having made its debut in the previous season. “There are some changes in the team this year. We have picked up a pretty young side and most of our players are in their early 20s as we look to invest in our youth system,” said the Minerva Punjab coach Wankhem Khogen Singh. With an increased quota for foreigners in the tournament, Minerva signed five new foreigners this season while retaining Lago, played on loan with Lonestar Kashmir earlier season.

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Mohun Bagan is well prepared for the tournament with Haitian World Cupper Sony Norde leading the roster of foreigners. Among the other notable foreigners are Cameroonian striker Aser Dipanda Dicka and Nigerian defender Kingsley Eze, who were part of the Aizawl team that picked up the title. Bagan also has good Indian names like defenders Kingshuk Debnath and Gurjinder Kumar and midfielders Raynier Fernandes and Shilton D’Silva, who are expected to play important roles in the team. “The team is almost new. Last year, we were able to beat Minerva Punjab and this season also we expect the same outcome,” Mohun Bagan head coach Sanjoy Sen exuded confidence ahead of the match.

The Mohun Bagan coach said that his team missed an “extra session” of practice having arrived late at the venue on Thursday owing to a delayed flight.

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Playing down some of the pre-season results like the 1-4 loss against the ISL outfit FC Pune City, he said: “The pre-season is all about the preparation for the upcoming tournaments. If you look at the match against FC Pune City, the result could have been a lot different as we created a lot of chances than the opposition,” Sen said.

The match starts at 5.30 pm.